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While bad for germs, social isolation spreads loneliness

by Amanda Lambert | Contributor
May 18, 2020

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Social isolation and its influence on loneliness are a serious and persistent problem. The American Psychological Association suggests that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase the risk for mortality.

However, with a commitment and focus on combating social isolation, you can prevent loneliness.

What are the causes of social isolation

There are many causes of social isolation. At times isolation occurs suddenly and without warning. Other times, a series of life changes leads to a gradual social withdrawal.

  • Loss of physical function. Whether it is an exacerbation of an illness or a new injury, the inability to get out of the house can be tough. If you were an active person who liked to go out and socialize, it can be a shock to be immobilized.
  • Stopping driving. Loss of driving can have a huge impact on independence. Without an alternative, many people are left at home without a way to access activities.
  • Family not nearby. In this day and age, families are often at a geographic distance from one another. It is a challenge to stay connected.
  • Friends start to die. A common refrain from older adults is the loss of long-time friendships. Even in senior communities, connections are forged. The passing of even casual acquaintances can have a profound affect.

Mental and medical consequences

The mental and medical consequences of loneliness are well documented. The COVID-19 virus pandemic contributed to calls for social distancing and increased quarantine orders throughout America and the world. Assisted living communities are not allowing any non-medical personnel on the premises. Activities are canceled and many dining rooms are going to room service only.

These restrictions only contribute to and possibly exacerbate an already big problem. Knowing the consequences can help you plan.

  • Suppressed immune system. Loneliness causes an increase in stress hormones (cortisol). “Cortisol can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase your risk for vascular problems, inflammation and heart disease,” says a Cleveland Clinic report.
  • A decline in physical function. As people are increasingly confined, their physical activity level also declines. This can have a significant impact on over all health and wellbeing. Activity is important. It helps maintain bone density, strength and flexibility. All of which we need as we age.
  • Depression and anxiety. The potential for depression and anxiety disorders can increase as people become more isolated. Feelings of despair and loss of control can contribute to these mental health problems.
  • Memory problems. Social connections help keep our minds sharp and focused. There are many potential causes of memory loss or other cognitive problems. Some research suggests that loneliness and isolation can contribute to loss of cognitive function.

How to combat social isolation

With a “can do” attitude and a willingness to try new things, it is absolutely possible to combat the effects of social isolation and prevent loneliness. Like most challenges in life, resilience and strength are characteristics that take time and effort to build. Our tips will make that possible.

Technology is your friend

Many seniors struggle with technology, but it can be a lifeline to other people. If you don’t have a computer, iPad or smartphone, consider getting one. Some older adults find an iPad easier to learn than a computer or smartphone. Learning how to use these will open up the world in unexpected ways. Look for classes at senior centers or ask your children or grandchildren to help you. The frustration while learning will pay off! The following are some useful social media platforms to learn.

  • Facebook. Keep up on grandkids and your friends. Post things of interest to share. View photos of family and trips.
  • FaceTime. FaceTime is an app that is built into every iPhone or iPad. It allows you to call someone and actually see them during the conversation. It has the capability of adding other people to the same call as well.
  • WhatsApp. WhatsApp is a free service that uses your phone’s cellular or Wi-Fi connection to facilitate messaging and voice calling. It allows you to connect with nearly anyone in the world alone or in a group. It works great for families.
  • Instagram. Instagram is a free photo and video sharing social networking program. It is really great for creative types who like to share their photos and short video clips.
  • Email. Yes, good old-fashion email is still great! Email your friends and family across the globe.

Develop a new hobby

Don’t be afraid to try new things. Learn a language online, try yoga, do chair exercises to a video, learn pickleball. The opportunities are boundless. If you live in your own home, senior centers and county recreation centers have an amazing array of activities geared toward seniors.

Adopt a pet

If you are allowed a pet and have the ability to care for one, a pet can be a wonderful companion. Just remember, dogs have to be walked several times a day. Pets can also be a nice conversation icebreaker with other people.

Get involved in activities

If you live in a senior community, there are likely tons of activities to choose from. Don’t be shy. What do you have to lose by at least trying? There is everything from book clubs and cultural events to traditional crafts. Put yourself out there and try something new.

Volunteer

If you have the ability and time, volunteering is a great way to feel less lonely while giving back to your community. Your Area Agency on Aging will have volunteer opportunities for older adults. And who knows you may make some good friends in the process.

The friendship line

The Institute on Aging (IOA) offers the Friendship Line, a 24/7, toll-free crisis phone line for people aged 60 years and above. Trained volunteers offer a friendly voice to people who are lonely or depressed. Their phone number is 800-971-0016.

Consider congregate housing if you live alone

If you live alone, consider other congregate housing options. These include cohousing, home-sharing, or even independent senior living. Living with other people helps with isolation and has the added benefit of support when you need it.

Social isolation and loneliness are not an inevitable part of aging. Tackle the problem with verve and grit to lead a happy and productive life.

Alliance America can help

An Alliance America financial advisor can assist you in maximizing your retirement resources and help achieve your retirement goals. Alliance America’s planning process is focused on personalized retirement income planning. As fiduciaries, our advisors are required to act in your best interest, and we are dedicated to helping you achieve the retirement lifestyle you seek. You can request a no-obligation consultation by calling 888-864-2542 today.

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