Does Isolation Increase a Senior's Risk for a Chronic Illness?

Sunrise Senior Living  |  January 3, 2018

Healthcare professionals who work with older adults have long believed that isolated seniors experience medical issues at a far greater rate than their more engaged peers. Now, there is evidence to support these views. 

Research shows isolation is a serious health risk for older adults, and the problem is growing, with an increasing number of Americans experiencing isolation regularly. The good news is research consistently shows that feeling connected and involved benefits both mental and physical health—and there are several ways to get started. 

Health Conditions More Common Among Isolated Seniors

When a senior is isolated, they are more likely to experience:

  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiac-related illnesses
  • Mobility issues and greater incidence of falls
  • Substance abuse (both alcohol and drugs)

Older adults who are isolated are also at increased risk for becoming victims of fraud and scams.

What is Isolation?                             

If you are an adult child or family caregiver, it’s important to understand the difference between being lonely and being isolated. While loneliness can create health risks for seniors, isolation occurs when a person lacks opportunities to interact with people and is linked to early mortality.

Scientists from McMaster University explained the difference as, “a person can be socially isolated but not feel lonely, whereas an individual with a seemingly large social network can still experience loneliness.”

What Causes Isolation, and How Can You Overcome It?

Here are a few of the most common causes a senior may become isolated, as well as tips for handling each situation:

     1. Grief and loss 

The loss of a spouse or long-term partner puts seniors at high risk for both loneliness and isolation. Seniors often find it difficult to go from being part of a couple to being alone. 

Helping them connect with a support group of widows and widowers is one of the best ways to overcome this challenge. Engaging with peers who understand and share their struggles—and whom they may enjoy socializing with—could provide them with a renewed sense of confidence and desire to reconnect with their community.

     2. Loss of friends

As we grow older, our group of friends often shrinks. Friends move away to be closer to their families, and retirement frequently means the loss of work friends. 

Helping an older adult make new friends and encouraging them to get involved in community activities is vital to overcoming isolation. Volunteer work is one idea to consider.

     3. Lack of transportation

Another common reason older adults become isolated is a lack of affordable transportation. If your loved one has given up driving, they may be struggling to find options for getting around town. 

The good news is that there are more choices today than ever before. Companies like Lyft and uberASSIST make it quick and easy to secure a ride to attend an event or run errands. You can also call your local Agency on Aging to ask for a list of reliable transportation providers.

Live an Active, Engaged Life at Sunrise

At Sunrise, we make it easy to live an active and engaged life. From socializing over a delicious meal in our dining room to attending wellness programs and activities, there are opportunities to Live With Purpose every day.

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