This article shares why social isolation is unhealthy for aging adults and 7 ways to avoid social isolation.
As humans, we thrive in community. It can come together in a group of family, neighbors, volunteers, or sport teams but the reason we gather often doesn’t matter. However, building a community seems easier when life sets us up for joining certain communities almost automatically, such as meeting other parents through daycare, school, clubs, neighborhood activities and more. As time moves on, and we experience the normal twists and turns of lives, our communities can shrink. This can leave aging adults alone much of the day and more vulnerable to being lonely.
According to the NIH, studies show that loneliness and social isolation are associated with higher risks for health problems such as heart disease, depression, and cognitive decline. One study showed that social isolation could be as bad for your health as smoking.
Why are seniors uniquely affected?
According to the CDC, “older adults are at an increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of a family or friend, chronic illness and/or hearing loss.” But that doesn’t mean we need to stay lonely or isolated. We can take steps to change our lives and open ourselves up to enjoyable activities and new communities, making new friends, learning new skills, and so much more.
Here are tips to limit social isolation and feel less lonely:
Talk to family and friends about how you feel
Talking to someone about how you feel or what you’re noticing. Saying something as small as, “I’m by myself a little too much. What do you do when that happens?” Asking someone else for advice is a great way to build a community and share ideas. They may feel the same way you do, and then you are a partner to make plans and get things going.
Make a list of what you find fun
Sometimes we just need to be reminded of what we like to do. Maybe it’s knitting, walking, talking on the phone, volunteering … your list can be endless! Once you have a list, start looking for ways to match the things you love with a purpose, a group, or start your own club of people who like to do what you do.
Adopt a pet
Sometimes feeling a lack of purpose contributes to feeling lonely or isolated and having a furry (or featured) friend to snuggle, walk, or care for makes like joyful. Check your local shelter and ask the employees to select a pet for your lifestyle. If you don’t feel like moving much, I bet they can find a pet who feels the same way! Either way, you’re giving a pet a new home and you get a new buddy.
If you’re able, join a local walking group or start one yourself. Walking is so good for your body and helps you feel during and after you walk. Walking with someone else keeps you motivated to go again, helps pass the time and keeps that feeling of isolation away. Sometimes you can join a walking group online that tracks your steps or maybe “walks” toward a goal. You can use your Medical Guardian alert device to track your steps and record them for the week.
Exercise your brain
If walking isn’t your thing, you can join an online class that does activities together or learn a new skill together. Often local communities will offer classes at a reduced cost that teaches a new language, skill or cooks together.
Join a social group
Groups like The Redhat Society and AmeriCorp for Seniors blend social groups with purposeful activity. They provide instant community and add some purpose to the fun. You can search for local groups like these or join a nationwide organization that has a club near you.
Seek out unique living arrangements
There are new ways that seniors are living with younger generations. In one program, a group of seniors opened their doors to college students. In another program Seniors help (and attended daycare) with little ones and still another program has Seniors helping pre-K students read.
For more information about a Medical Guardian medical alert device call 800-668-9200 or click here to take our device quiz to find the perfect match for your lifestyle.