As our country ages, social isolation is a threat more and more Americans will face. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 11 million people over the age of 65 – or 28% of all seniors – lived alone, 71% of them women. And it’s not just a senior’s living situation that contributes to their isolation. Health declines, mobility limitations, transportation issues, and disability – all side effects of the aging process – also play large roles. With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every single day, the number of Americans who may face these issues is rising.
Social Isolation vs. Loneliness
Social isolation is different from loneliness. In a 2004 study, The British Columbia Ministry of Health described the difference this way:
“Loneliness is subjective and is measured using questions that seek perceptions of relationships, social activity, and feelings about social activity. Social isolation is objective and can be measured using observations of an individual’s social interactions and network.”
In other words, someone who is socially isolated may not necessarily be lonely and someone who is lonely may not be socially isolated. The takeaway here is that feelings of loneliness – or the lack thereof – often depend on an individual’s personality and may not always be a good measure of risk. Social isolation, however, often leads to loneliness and both can have negative impacts on overall health.
Social Isolation and Health
Isolation – both physical and mental – has profound effects on health. Studies have shown that social isolation leads to higher risks of mortality for people 52 and older. Perceived loneliness contributes to cognitive declines and dementia and is also a major risk factor for depression. Furthermore, studies also show that social isolation also puts seniors at greater risk of elder abuse.
With a growing number of seniors being vulnerable to such a serious health risk, family members and caregivers must learn how to spot the signs of isolation and have a plan to combat it. In our next post, we’ll offer a few strategies that can help.
Generations Home Care Can Help
In many cases, the first step in spotting and combatting isolation is through regular in-person contact with a senior. Generations Home Care provides highly trained and compassionate caregivers who can provide much needed companionship to elders in need. If you live in the greater Phoenix area and would like to learn more, call us today at 602-595-HOME (4663). Together we can provide you or a senior you care about a connection that greatly improves quality of life while at the same time bolstering overall health.