Senior isolation may occur when a senior family member lives alone, has limited social interaction with peers, or does not actively engage in maintaining friendships and relationships.
For some seniors, the issues may be location and inconvenience. Other seniors may have nestled themselves into a cocoon, withdrawing from friends and family for fear of bothering them.
No matter the cause, caregivers and families can step in and help seniors overcome isolation.
Dangers of Senior Isolation
Isolation is dangerous to seniors on the emotional, psychological and physical level. It may lead to depression, alcohol use or anxiety.
It's important for family members to interact with senior family members regularly, and to evaluate if the senior is isolated due to a mental, emotional or physical condition.
Have the senior's hearing checked if you suspect the senior is suffering from hearing loss. Seniors who suffer from untreated hearing loss are less likely to engage in social situations.
Overcoming Isolation: Solutions
Someone old: Old friends. Caregivers need to help seniors maintain the most important friendships in their lives, which for many seniors means a long-time friend. Provide a cell phone, land line, or transportation to help keep your senior family member in touch with their nearest and dearest friends.
Someone new. Encourage seniors to meet new people and engage socially, by helping them find local activities specifically for seniors. Start at the local senior center, use the calendar and find group activities which may be of interest.
If the senior in your care is feeling shy or insecure, offer to go along with them to the event or activity. Try bringing the senior to a local senior center during lunch time, if the center has a cafeteria.
Work or volunteer. Seniors who are active may find enjoyment in working at a part-time job or volunteering for a local organization, where the senior will be in contact with other people.
The local library, museum groups, local Small Business Administration offices, public schools and other organizations seek volunteers. These activities can help seniors overcome social isolation, while also feeling needed and accomplished.
Use technology to stay connected. Keeping seniors from feeling isolated is not limited to physical and social interactions. Traditional letters and phone calls are a valid way to keep seniors connected to their friends and family members, but the Internet can be just as effective at helping seniors feel less isolated.
Photo albums, online support. Encouraging and teaching seniors to use computers will help them stay connected with far away family members and friends. It also provides seniors who are sedentary a way to interact with other seniors, through online support groups.
Email. Of the seniors that are wired, according to Pew Internet and American Life Project, 94 percent of those have used email. When seniors have access to and are comfortable with using email, there is more opportunity for them to interact socially with their children and grandchildren, who may also spend time online.
Speaker phone. If the relatives or friends of seniors are frustrated with not being heard, or feel like they cannot understand muffled tones on the phone, it may be time to invest in a quality speaker phone for the senior in your life.
A speaker phone will give them, particularly one that may not be physically comfortable holding a phone receiver for longer than five minutes, more comfort and confidence when using the phone.