As people grow older, their chances of loneliness and depression increase. Considering the aging population, loneliness in older adults is becoming an epidemic that is affecting a growing number of people. Not only do we need to understand the main causes of loneliness in older adults, but we also need to start finding solutions.
Studies have shown between 20 percent and 30 percent of older adults report loneliness at least during some of the time. Not only does loneliness impact moral and mental wellbeing, but it has also been linked to physical illness. Researchers from the AARP Public Policy Institute, Stanford University, recently reported that “Medicare spends an estimated $6.7 billion more each year on seniors who have little social contact with others.” This shows how mental health can have an adverse effect on people’s physical wellbeing and can increase risk of death and disease. Research has shown that loneliness is a serious problem among older adults and is associated with cognitive deterioration, social isolation, and the inability to perform activities of daily living independently (Hicks, 2000). So, for their physical and mental wellbeing, we need to take initiative.
Why is this the case? And what can we do to change it? Along with Athens Straight Stairlifts, let’s consider how we could tackle the loneliness epidemic.
Causes of loneliness
There are many reasons why older adults might feel isolated in 2019. And without encouragement and efforts towards social inclusion, this is unlikely to change. The leading causes of senior loneliness in the U.S today include:
If people are less able to get out and about this gives them far less scope for social interaction. Lack of mobility can also be damaging to morale and confidence. Because of this, older adults who struggle in this aspect often spend the majority of their days alone in the house. Even those who are living communally in a care home are affected by this. The study ‘Aging and Place in Long-Term Care Settings: Influences on Social Relationships’ found that, “Health and functional limitations posed the greatest challenge to socialization” even within the parameters of an LTC (long-term care setting).
Isolation from friends and loved ones
Today, more families are dispersed around the world than ever. Job opportunities, education, new relationships, and other factors lead families to uproot and move away from their hometown. In doing so, they often leaving aging parents or grandparents behind. Of course, families often make time to visit elderly relatives. For the rest of the time however, the lack of family ties in their immediate area can lead to severe loneliness amongst older generations.
Furthermore, with increased age, deaths among friends and relatives becomes more common. Older adults who have lost their partners are far more likely to suffer from loneliness.
Lack of social interest
Even when the social opportunities present themselves, some older adults simply aren’t interested. Socializing becomes a nuisance and many older adults claim that younger generations don’t want to make connections with them.
What can be changed?
We need to take the loneliness epidemic into our own hands. It isn’t enough to provide older adults with housing and basic needs — they need stimulation and social interaction to bring joy to their lives.
Integration into communities
Community integration is key in solving the problem of loneliness. Faith communities have proved a great solution to social isolation. Older people can achieve a heightened sense of belonging and contentment from getting involved with churches and other community gatherings.
An important element of successful community engagement is people approaching older. In Augusta, Georgia, for example, postal workers were trained to check up on older residents while completing their postal round. In Franklin County, a similar routine is conducted by local sheriffs. These regular check-ups are important for the residents’ health, safety, and social wellbeing.
Despite technology often being demonized for isolating people, it could prove valuable here. Technology provides a new way for older people to stay connected to loved ones that live far away. The ability to Skype their grandchildren for example, will make older people feel closer to their loved ones and much more connected.
As well as improved connectivity, technological advances have equipped us with new ways to check up on our senior friends and relatives. Sensing and monitoring solutions, which are currently used in many homes in the U.S, can track the actions of senior residents to determine whether they are becoming more isolated. The sensors monitor how often someone leaves the house, whether they call people, or how often they send emails. Some might find this option pretty creepy, but it could give you a strong insight about how your elderly relative is feeling.
There are many projects designed to help older adults get out and about. One of these schemes, ‘Cycling Without Age’, entails volunteers taking older adults out on specially designed trishaws. This initiative began in Copenhagen and has since gathered international traction after the founders’ TED talk. Today, the scheme is active in over 50 places across the U.S and many more around the world. You can find a list of participating areas or learn how to get your local community involved on the website.
The idea of ‘Cycling Without Age’ is to improve the socialization and mental wellbeing of both the older adult and the younger volunteer. It has been repeatedly proven that getting active, enjoying the fresh air, and having meaningful social interactions can enhance someone’s mental wellbeing.
The people involved in this scheme work tirelessly to decrease loneliness and depression in older adults. We need to see more initiatives like this one put in place to tackle this problem. For now, however, do what you can. Visit an aging relative, go and chat to a neighbor and make sure vulnerable older adults feel integrated into your local community.