This month we are focusing on senior isolation, a phenomenon that occurs as people become increasingly isolated from society as they age. The mental and physical health risks of senior isolation are well-documented, and we discuss them in detail in a companion blog. However, many people have asked us if their loved ones are at risk for senior isolation. To help answer that question, we want to discuss some of the main causes of senior isolation.
Watch for signs of isolation
Does the senior have a spouse, partner, or another housemate? Living alone is one of the biggest risk factors for senior isolation, but more and more of today’s seniors do live on their own. This is due to a combination of factors, including increasing divorce rates among the middle-aged, longer life expectancies that may mean that widows and widowers survive their spouses by years, and changing habitation patterns that make it less likely for people to live with family.
Is the senior a caretaker for another senior or another vulnerable person? While living alone is a risk factor, a senior who is caring for another senior that has mobility issues or experiences dementia may suffer from isolation and loneliness, even if they are never actually alone. This is especially true if there is no access to regular and reliable respite care.
Has the senior experienced a major loss or series of losses? One of the worst parts of aging is that friends and companions begin to move away from neighborhoods to head to retirement communities, live with family members, or sometimes pass away. This can result in the loss of a support network.
Is family close by and, if so, do they visit frequently? Even loving family members can find it difficult to visit a senior frequently enough to stave off isolation and loneliness. Many families feel real guilt about this issue, but part of the social changes that people have noted are due to the fact that family sizes got smaller, which resulted in adult children having to take on a greater proportion of responsibilities. Combine that with the fact that people now often move large distances from their childhood homes because of career demands, and families may simply be unable to provide the type of consistent presence required to help prevent isolation.
Does the senior have any mobility concerns? When moving around becomes difficult, seniors tend to avoid it, which can make interacting with others difficult. People often think of mobility in terms of the ability to walk, but issues that impact the ability to drive may be more isolating to many seniors.
Remember to reach out for help
If you have a loved one at risk for senior isolation, there are a number of things you can do to help them combat it. The most effective strategy may be transitioning to a senior living facility such as Chelsea Senior Living in West Milford, New Jersey, which is intentionally designed to help combat senior isolation. To find out more or schedule a tour, give us a call.