Did you know nearly ⅓ of seniors live by themselves? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that’s close to 13.8 million seniors aging alone. This past year, we’ve experienced the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The COVID-19 outbreak will have a long-term impact on older adults. Loneliness and social isolation are likely to be one of the most affected health outcomes due to the pandemic. Social isolation and loneliness are major risk factors that have been linked with poor physical and mental health status.
The CDC states that although it’s hard to measure social isolation and loneliness precisely, there is strong evidence that many adults aged 50 and older are socially isolated or lonely in ways that put their health at risk. Recent studies found that:
Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
Social isolation was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia.
Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.
Social distancing from the coronavirus has made senior isolation more prevalent. So what can you do if your loved one is isolated or feeling lonely? Even a simple call to say “hello” will make an impact. If you have aging relatives, call them, and encourage your family to do the same. Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and other video chat services are a great way to connect.
Another way for you to help your isolated loved ones is to help them exercise. When seniors exercise, they feel good physically and emotionally. Seniors staying active helps ward off anxiety and depression in addition to offering physical health benefits. Even a short walk outside in the neighborhood can help. During this time of social distancing, remember to wear a mask or stay 6 feet apart.
Another way to combat loneliness for your loved one is by bringing in companions and/or caregivers into their home. Caregivers not only help with taking care of the home, but they can also provide companionship, rides to the grocery store and more.
As we age, communities are more important than ever, especially in times like now. If you have a loved one who is home alone, be sure to check in on them.
CDC -- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25663