Wellness Wednesdays: loneliness prevention

Image: Wellness Wednesdays: loneliness prevention

In this edition of Wellness Wednesdays, we look at social isolation among seniors and tips for avoiding loneliness as you or your loved one ages.

What are some health risks associated with social isolation?

Numerous studies have shown that socially isolated seniors commonly have a shorter life expectancy. A Review of Social Isolation, by Nicholas R. Nicholson, published in The Journal of Primary Prevention, reveals that social isolation has been demonstrated to lead to numerous detrimental health effects in older adults. Some of the most common health risks associated with social isolation include:

  • Increased risk of mortality
  • Cognitive decline and risk of dementia
  • Increased vulnerability to elder abuse
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure
  • Increased risk of depressive symptoms
  • Poor physical health as a result of less physical activity or poor diet

How can social isolation be prevented?

Promoting social health and connectedness is important when it comes to avoiding feelings of loneliness and isolation. Here are some tips for preventing social isolation in seniors:

  • Make transportation available—lack of adequate transportation is a primary cause of social isolation among seniors who cannot drive. Look for senior’s discounts on public transit, or Driver Companions such as those offered by Seniors for Seniors in order to help you or your loved one get around.
  • Get involved in social activities—many activities are inherently social in nature, and encouraging seniors to remain active in their hobbies and interests can help them maintain a sense of purpose and keep them from feeling isolated and lonely.
  • Provide something to take care of—the act of nurturing can relieve feelings of social isolation. An animal companion is a great option if you or your loved one is capable of caring for a pet, but even something as simple as tending to a plant or garden can often reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Have hearing and vision tested regularly—seniors with undiagnosed or untreated hearing or vision problems may avoid social situations because of embarrassment and difficulty communicating.
  • Share meals—the act of eating with others is inherently social. You or your loved one might consider sharing a meal with others whenever possible, whether it’s with family, friends, a church group, at a local senior centre, etc. Seniors for Seniors also offers Drop-In Companions that can assist with meal preparation and provide some company for you or your loved one if needed.
  • Become comfortable with technology—helping seniors understand and be able to utilize technology more effectively can help them feel connected to others even if they are separated by physical distance. You or your loved one might consider taking classes to learn more about computers, the internet, smart phones, etc.

Here are some great resources for more tips on preventing social isolation among seniors:

Advocacy Centre for the Elderly

Ontario Society of Senior Citizens Organizations

Ontario Senior Games Association

Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat

Don’t miss our next edition of Wellness Wednesdays where we look at pet therapy and the health benefits of animal companions for seniors!