The Doctor Will See You Now – Older Americans at Risk for Health Issues Related to Social Isolation, Loneliness

By Optum New Mexico

The holidays can be challenging for older adults who are more vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness. In fact, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showed that nearly one quarter of adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated.

Loneliness and social isolation are serious health risks, particularly to at-risk individuals, such as older adults. A substantial body of evidence demonstrates that social isolation presents a significant threat for premature mortality, comparable to other factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, or obesity.

Isolated and lonely people get sick more often and are sicker longer. In addition, poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) were associated with a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke. Perhaps most concerning is that a person’s chance of premature death from all causes is significantly increased by social isolation, a hazard that may rival those of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.

There are many tell-tale signs that you or someone you know may be prone to experiencing loneliness or social isolation. These include:

  • Disability or lack of mobility
  • Worsening vision or hearing problems
  • Separation from friends or family
  • Illness or death of a loved one
  • Lack of access to transportation

However, there are steps to take to help combat the loneliness epidemic. Engaging in activities that are meaningful can boost mood and give people a sense of purpose. Research demonstrates that productive people not only live longer but also seem to improve cognitive function and are better able to maintain their well-being.

Some tips for staying connected include:

  • Learn something new; sign up for a class in your community
  • Reignite your passions with something you love; begin an old hobby
  • Explore volunteer opportunities with your local community that allow you to help others
  • Make sure you stay connected with your friends and family, in-person or through phone calls, email, video chats, or social media
  • Stay physically active and consider group exercise, such a walking club or working out with a friend
  • Find a faith-based or spiritual organization where you can engage with others in a meaningful way
  • If you are able, adopt a pet. Animals can be a source of comfort and may also lower blood pressure and reduce stress.

By helping older adults to employ some of these tips, others can do their part to help combat senior loneliness and support the social and emotional needs of the older adults we care about.

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