Maintaining a sense of connectedness is deeply important for our health and wellbeing, and an important part of upholding connections is having the opportunity to interact socially with valued companions, friends, and acquaintances.
Caring for these social relationships is deeply important for avoiding isolation and the negative emotional impacts that prolonged solitude can have upon how we feel about ourselves, our circumstances, and the world that surrounds us. Everyone is deserving of meaningful and reciprocal relationships that fill them with feelings of joy and remind them that they are loved and appreciated by others. The unfortunate reality for a great deal of seniors, however, is that isolation and loneliness are feelings that are often common within their lives. The impacts that isolation, and the feelings that it creates, have upon seniors’ mental and physical health can be significant, so it is deeply important that seniors and those who care for them work to ensure that socialization and connectedness remain priorities in seniors’ daily lives.
Becoming More Isolated
There are a whole host of new realities that come as aspects of growing older that can make it more challenging for seniors to remain as socially engaged as they once were. The following are just a few of the many possible factors that can come into play to motivate seniors to draw inward and become more isolated:
- Worries about burdening others
- Loss of existing friendship groups or networks
- Greater difficulty communicating, because of speech or hearing problems
- Fears related to leaving the house, because of diminished mobility or symptoms of illness
- Death of a spouse or partner
- Children or grandchildren don’t live nearby
Consequences of Isolation For Seniors
It becomes increasingly easy for seniors to allow themselves to sink deeper and deeper into a state of isolation and loneliness, especially because venturing out into the world and attempting to build new relationships can feel like an infinitely more challenging option in light of all the factors listed above. Remaining in the home in solitude becomes the simpler option, but surrendering to loneliness can have a whole bunch of different negative effects:
- Thoughts of Suicide
- Problems Sleeping
- Increased Risk of Chronic Disease, particularly cardiac or vascular diseases
- Increased Stress or Anxiety
- Greater Reduction in Mobility, if they are not leaving the house to see others or participate in activities
- Cognitive Decline
Fighting Isolation and Fostering Connections
Upon considering each of the potential risks that can accompany feelings of isolation for seniors, it becomes abundantly clear that it is incredibly important to support our senior loved-ones in ways that offer them support a they work to remain socially engaged and connected. The following are some suggestions of ways to protect against feelings of isolation and loneliness:
- Transportation – Making sure that comfortable and accessible transportation is accessible that offers seniors the opportunity to get out and visit with friends and family or to participate in events and activities whenever they choose, without feeling like they are inconveniencing others by asking for a ride. The sense freedom to travel around to activities or make plans with friends and family members can make a big difference in seniors’ desire and eagerness to be social.
- Technology – Today’s modern technologies, such as social media, make it easier than ever for seniors to remain connected with loved-ones near or far without having to leave their homes or their comfort zones. Teaching seniors to make proper use of technology can offer them a sense of independence and empowerment in their ability to reach out and facilitate the fostering of the relationships that are valuable to them.
- Places of Worship – Building and nurturing both a sense of connectedness to a higher power, and to other people who share a common system of belief or set of values, is deeply important for some seniors. Arranging for seniors to attend services and activities in places of worship can help them to feel connected not only to their values, but also to other people who share them.
- Pets – While fundamentally different from interacting with other human beings, bonding and building a companionate relationship with a pet or visiting animal can help to lift spirits and creates the opportunity for some form of interaction in situations where organizing get-togethers with other people on a routine basis becomes challenging.
- Meals Together – Visiting your senior loved-one to eat together and share a meal, or encouraging them to plan meals together with others can be great, as eating together with other people can be an easy and accessible way to integrate social interaction into everyday routines.
Keeping up social relationships and connections often becomes more of a challenge for seniors as their previous social networks and life circumstances start to go through meaningful changes. Being thoughtful and purposeful about building and attending to valuable relationships, and making sure that elements are in place that make consistent social interaction accessible for seniors in North and West Vancouver is a deeply important part of minimizing feelings of isolation and loneliness, and helping seniors to uphold a better sense of overall health and wellbeing as they continue to live out their lives in older age.