More Americans are living longer, with the number of people older than 65 projected to increase to more than 80 million by 2040. As this population reaches retirement age, the risk of social isolation substantially increases – along with its negative effects.
Keeping older adults socially engaged is an important part of their overall well-being. Older people are at high risk for social isolation as age, disease, and loss rob them of their social connections. In addition to a greater feeling of loneliness, diminishing social interactions can leave older adults vulnerable to developing diseases like dementia and other chronic illnesses.
For caregivers, deciding what is best for their senior loved ones can feel overwhelming. Given the benefits of fostering social interactions among seniors as they age, many caregivers might consider prioritizing opportunities to keep their aging loved ones socially active and connected.
Continue reading to learn more about the benefits of social connection, the risk of loneliness, and tips for keeping your family member connected as they age.
Tips to Keep Older Adults Socially Engaged
Keeping seniors engaged is critical to their quality of life. There are a host of benefits for seniors who remain socially connected, including increased physical activity, a stronger support system, decreased rates of depression, and relief from physical discomfort. Having regular social interactions can even extend an older adult’s quality of life. One study found that older adults who have strong community connections have a 50 percent greater chance of living five years longer than seniors who remained socially isolated.
Consider the following activities and changes if you are looking for a way to help your loved one create a stronger community:
- Hire home health services
- Adopt or foster a pet
- Make meals a social event
- Increase the use of social media platforms
- Get involved in local activities
It is important to keep the older adults in your life moving as well. Keeping physical activity fun can lead to increased motivation to remain physically active. Dancing is one great way to get seniors up and moving and getting great exercise.
Reach Out and Play
The Ageless Innovation and AARP have collaborated to create and advertise an initiative called Reach Out and Play. This series of events strives to encourage people from all age groups to connect with older adults and increase the number of meaningful interactions thereby increasing emotional and overall well-being. Reach Out and Play events will be happening from September through October of 2023. Find more information about events in your area.
Social Isolation May Influence the Development of Dementia in Seniors
There is a devastating connection between a lack of social interaction and an increased rate of older adults developing dementia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, socially isolated seniors have a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, chronic loneliness showed a 27 percent increase in the risk of developing dementia in adults who were studied over nine years.
Ensuring that seniors are not isolated is critically important. In addition to the risk of dementia, the CDC cites other health risks associated with long-term social isolation, including:
- A 57 percent increased risk of emergency room visits
- A 29 percent increased risk of heart disease
- A 68 percent increased risk of hospitalization
- A 32 percent increased risk of stroke
- Higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide
- An increased risk of premature death
Is Loneliness an Epidemic?
Chronic loneliness may be a bigger problem for Americans than most of us have considered. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warns, “Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives.”
Now, as more of us are living longer, we must focus on taking steps to increase our quality of life as we age by increasing our connections.