According to the AARP, a study conducted by the National Institute on Aging indicated that an estimated 17-percent of adults over the age of 65 live alone. This means millions of people are at risk of social isolation. The statistic is especially true for males in larger cities like Los Angeles. In addition to the many emotional and psychological dangers that isolation causes, researchers are now looking into physical health risks too.
Social Isolation and Type 2 Diabetes
Researchers publishing in BMC Public Health have recognized a connection between a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes and social isolation. The research indicates that less social support impacts the decision making process. It can lead individuals to feel less motivated to make healthy choices. These include dietary decisions, exercise habits or taking prescribed medications as directed to help prevent or control type 2 diabetes.
The Connection between Physical Health and Social Isolation
Another 2016 study also explored the links between physical health and social isolation. This study connected the number of social ties individuals had with concrete measures. They included the percentage of belly fat, inflammation and high blood pressure. Interacting more and building broad social support networks was shown to decrease all of the above and help to keep these measurements within a healthier range.
Staying Connected Linked to Longevity
Both of these studies supported earlier findings from researchers. Those findings concluded seniors live longer when they have strong social networks. Keeping up social ties is not always easy as a person grows older, however. Seniors are more inclined to have lost a spouse or significant friends. They also often live further away from family members. Many are limited in their ability to get out and meet friends. Lack of transportation or physical decline leave them homebound.
In recognizing the problems associated with social isolation we can look to find solutions. Seniors often express a goal of aging in place. It is important to consider their continued ability to spend time with others before making the decision to remain at home. Independent senior living communities offer one option for those over the age of 65 who want to maintain their independence at home. Volunteer visits, readily available transportation and a nearby network of other seniors who share the same concerns makes it easier to stay connected when living in this type of setting.
The Role of the Faith Based Community
Seniors who are connected with a church, synagogue or other religious institution sometimes receive support. This comes from faith based leaders and volunteers. These individuals can schedule regular visits to spend time with the senior. They might also invite the senior to services or stay connected with phone and email. While this is a viable option for some, challenges do present. This is especially true when seniors become frail and are less likely to attend services or take the initiative to request visits at home.
Of course the best option for staying socially connected is the family unit. When family members make time to visit their aging loved ones, it helps seniors to retain a sense of purpose and their emotional and physical health. Even a once a week visit coupled with phone calls often has a significant positive effect. Taking this step proves challenging when adult children live miles away or maintain busy careers and hectic travel schedules. If a senior develops dementia, family members also sometimes feel less comfortable around their loved one. This often leads to less frequent visits.
Professional Caregiver Support
As a result of the limited availability of some family members, enlisting the help of a professional caregiver is a popular option for preventing social isolation. Whether hired for a few hours a week or to provide around the clock care, these individuals spend time with seniors and often become an integral part of their support system. Many enjoy a unique bonding experience with the seniors in their care. This helps visits to feel more like spending time with a friend, enhancing connections and the senior’s feeling of self-worth.
Social isolation is a serious concern especially for the aging members of society. Taking measures to prevent it helps seniors to not only maintain emotional and cognitive health but physical health too. Salus Homecare Los Angeles supports seniors in their effort to never feel alone. If you are struggling with social isolation, know that we are here for you. Call anytime to schedule a complimentary, no obligation consultation.
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