Adults age 50 and older are more prone to social isolation. Louise Hawkley, Ph.D., of the University of Chicago, found in her research that perceived social isolation can lead to depression, poor sleep, worsened cardiovascular function, and impaired immunity. Today’s blog from Davidson Law Group’s elder law expert discusses physical, emotional, and mental health for seniors facing social isolation.
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What Is Social Isolation?
Social isolation is the absence of social interactions, contacts, and relationships with family and friends, neighbors, and society at large on a broader scale. People facing social isolation lack the resources provided by other people, such as emotional, social, physical, and financial support.
The immune system plays a vital role in the physical health of someone facing social isolation. Loneliness can lead to a long-term “fight or flight” response in humans. This keeps the immune system on high alert, which leads to chronic inflammation. Long-term inflammation could lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. Heightened immune responses can also lead to dementia or other brain-related cognitive decline. Our elder law expert suggests seniors find an appropriate physical activity they enjoy and participate in that activity every day. Physical activity can be as low-key as walking, painting, or playing a musical instrument.
Seniors can then take their physical activity one step further by finding a group that follows similar interests. For example, seniors may find a group of people that enjoys walking at the mall every morning or painting portraits once a week.
Mental & Emotional Health
As you may expect, social isolation in seniors has drastic effects on mental and emotional health. Combating social isolation depends on the individual. Some people may take readily to talking to other people. Others may not recognize they’re socially isolated, which may lead to an intervention on the part of family members. Our elder law expert recommends using caution. Someone who is socially isolated may not be able to handle a sudden influx of social interactions. Take it slowly and gradually to ease them into interacting with others.
Joining a social group offers a way to alleviate the mental stress caused by loneliness. Interacting with family members is the most basic social group of all. If your family is a long distance away, maintain regular contact through phone calls and video chats. Family members are one key to solving social isolation issues.
Structure works well here. Schedule regular chats at certain times of the day or week. Think about “tea time over Skype” or a similar situation. Every day at 3 p.m., talk to your elderly relative through some kind of video chat service.
Talking to neighbors is an excellent way to combat social isolation. If the isolated person doesn’t know any neighbors, perhaps family members can facilitate an introduction. If you or a loved one lives in a nursing home, consider finding an appropriate activity to join at the assisted living facility. These places usually have an activities director.
Elder Law at Davidson Law Group
Social isolation has detrimental effects on people, but it causes the most harm in seniors ages 50 and over. Sometimes, all it takes is reaching out to your loved one to get them feeling better. The key is to keep the social interactions going, because humans are, by nature, social creatures. Contact the elder law experts at Davidson Law Group if you have any questions.