Surprising effect of loneliness on seniors

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As our society ages, many adults are faced with addressing the issue of coordinating care for an elderly relative. Oftentimes the focus is on the physical needs of the person. Services can be arranged for meals, medication, safety, and physical care. Unfortunately the emotional and social needs may be overlooked.

Families have so many aspects of care to coordinate that the idea of coordinating social opportunities may become overwhelming. However, providing socialization and companionship is also vital to the well-being of the person.

In this country, almost 30% of seniors live alone. For many seniors, their family members may not live in the area or are limited in the time that they can spend with their loved ones. Also, elderly friends may be less socially involved or having their own health problems. These issues can lead to loneliness and isolation for seniors.

Studies have found that prolonged loneliness and isolation can equal the health risks of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Also, 26% of people have an increased risk of death due to loneliness. The need for socialization is not just to impact the person’s mood but also their physical health and their quality of life.

The impacts of loneliness are not just physical. Many seniors worry about cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease as they age and not without reason. There have been many studies that have looked into the connection between loneliness and cognitive functioning. These studies have found a link and that cognitive decline tends to be accelerated with limited socialization and increased loneliness.

There are numerous ways to provide socialization, engagement, and purpose to seniors. Below are some things to consider and look into for your family.

• Contact the local senior center to determine what programs and services might be available. Ask for a calendar of events to review with your loved one. Transportation is often a service that is provided by the senior center or arranged through local organizations for a reasonable cost.

• Look into a friendly visitor program, often offered through senior centers. These programs can involve regular phone calls or even visits with your loved one. In some communities, churches or home care agencies also offer such a program.

• Use technology to keep your loved one connected. Many seniors find that setting up a Facebook page is a positive experience for them. This allows them to stay connected with families and friends who may not be in the area and will allow pictures and stories to be shared.

• Look into volunteer opportunities if your loved one is mobile and able to get out. Many organizations utilize volunteers in a variety of roles.

• Adult day programs are a wonderful resource for families and seniors. The programs often provide transportation and many provide physical assistance with showering and other personal care.

Providing opportunities for socialization as part of the care for your loved one will not only add to their quality of life but will also have a positive effect on their overall health.