14 Ways to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation

Last Updated: October 3, 2018 Isolation among seniors is alarmingly common and will, unfortunately, continue to increase in prevalence as the senior population grows. Learn more about how to keep your parents and senior loved ones healthy by reading our tips on the top ways to help seniors avoid isolation. How to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation Loneliness and social isolation have been linked to poor health outcomes in seniors, according to a study by researcher Nicholas R. Nicholson in “A Review of Social Isolation,” published in The Journal of Primary Prevention. The study notes how “social isolation has been demonstrated to lead to numerous detrimental health effects in older adults,” including: An increased number of falls An increased risk for all-cause mortality An increased risk for dementia An increased risk for rehospitalization The study also states that the prevalence of isolation among seniors who live at home may be as high as 43%. “With a prevalence of over 40% and the sheer number of older persons projected to increase exponentially… social isolation will likely impact the health, well-being and quality of life of numerous older person now and in the foreseeable future.” Considering the demonstrated risks and the increasing prevalence of this issue, it’s certainly worth addressing how we can promote social integration among our older loved ones, and even ourselves — it has also been shown that family caregivers are at a high risk of social isolation themselves. Here are the top ways to promote connectedness and social health: 1. Address incontinence issues. For obvious reasons, a senior who experiences incontinence may be hesitant to leave their home and could become isolated. When family caregivers and health professionals make sure that incontinence issues are appropriately addressed, for example through medications and supplies, seniors can have a better opportunity to recognize their social potentials and live life without embarrassment and fear. 2. Encourage a positive body image. Compliments and positive comments can go a long way to boosting the self-esteem of seniors. Similarly, discouraging seniors from fretting over their appearance or effects of aging may help them avoid becoming self-conscious to the point that they avoid social interactions. Remember to always be positive and sensitive in efforts to encourage older loved ones. 3. Encourage dining with others. Eating with others is inherently social. Encourage seniors to share a meal with others whenever possible, whether it’s with a church group or a friendly cafe or diner. Dining with others is also likely to help promote better nutrition, which is crucial for the elderly. 4. Encourage hearing and vision tests. Seniors with undiagnosed or untreated hearing problems may avoid social situations because of difficulty communicating or embarrassment. Encourage seniors to have their hearing checked and hearing problems treated. A hearing aid may be the only barrier between a senior and better social health. Vision tests are important too, as sight problems “limit opportunities for social interactions with others” according to the social isolation study. 5. Encourage religious seniors to maintain attendance at their places of worship. For seniors who have been regular churchgoers, this weekly social connection has been shown to be quite beneficial. “Those frequently attending religious services have been found to have lower mortality rates than those with infrequent attendance,” the study reports. Older churchgoers not only benefit from the social interaction and sense of purpose that weekly worship provides, but they also benefit from the watchful eye of other churchgoers, who are likely to recognize a decline in an isolated senior that may have gone unnoticed otherwise. 6. Give a senior something to take care of. Many experts note that the act of nurturing can relieve feelings of social isolation. In the peer-reviewed paper, “Emotional Benefits of Dog Ownership,” researcher Eve Beals succinctly outlines the benefits of nurturing a pet: “Pet owners remain engaged socially, have less depression, suffer less loneliness, feel more secure, have more motivation for the constructive use of time and require less medication than non-pet owners. Animal companionship facilitates establishing friends, is a social lubricant, gives a reason to get up in the morning and is an icebreaker.” You would need to make certain that the senior is capable and willing to properly care for the pet before giving a pet as a gift, but assuming the senior is capable of caring for a pet, nurturing for an animal companion can be quite beneficial. Even tending a garden can satisfy our nurturing drive, so giving seniors gardening supplies as a gift can be beneficial too. 7. Give affection. There’s nothing like a hug. Research has shown that friendly platonic touching from family, like hand-holding or hugging, can lower stress and promote feelings of well-being. On the other hand, people deprived of touch can experience decreased well-being. So even if you or your older relatives are not the touchy-feely types, at the very least, weave a friendly hug into your greetings and farewells. 8. Give extra support to seniors who have lost a family member, friend or spouse. Older adults may be at highest risk for becoming socially isolated during the period after a family member, friend or spouse has passed away. For this reason, it’s important to provide extra emotional and social support to recent mourners, widows and widowers while they are grieving. Do more than bring flowers; go the extra mile and spend more time with the senior in the days and weeks following his or her loss. This can make all the difference for the bereaved senior’s well-being and it helps to encourage a healthy grieving process rather than a spiral into prolonged depression and isolation. 9. Help out a caregiver. Family caregivers who are helping to care for an elderly loved one are probably more concerned about the social well-being of the person they are caring for than their own social well-being. But caregiving itself can actually trigger social isolation. In Squires’ AARP article, she summarizes the health risks of caregiving: “Caregivers often work by themselves, and more than half (53%) say they have less time for friends and family. All too often, they don’t call doctors when they are sick and they have little … Continue reading 14 Ways to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation