Social isolation is an emerging issue, especially among seniors. About one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone, and half of those over 85 do. Plus, social network size and network support tend to decrease with age, which contributes to loneliness in the elderly. Health and disabilities, loss of a spouse, and transportation issues are also risk factors that may lead to social isolation and loneliness.
During a recent hearing on “Aging Without Community: The Consequences of Isolation and Loneliness” before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, University of Maine social work professor Lenard W. Kaye reported that “social isolation is a killer.”
Social isolation has been linked to serious consequences for senior health: Both social isolation and loneliness are associated with increased mortality, poorer overall cognitive performance and faster cognitive decline, depressive symptoms, and increased blood pressure.
The risk of isolation and loneliness extends to caregivers of older adults, too, Kaye said in his testimony, “given that caregiving can be a very isolating experience.” He urged lawmakers to support local solutions that prevent social isolation and loneliness.
“Due to the various life events that can trigger social isolation, from death of a significant other to loss of transportation to health decline, effective interventions will need to be diverse, and they will need to be tailored to the personal circumstances of the isolated individual,” he said.
One way to bridge communication gaps with loved ones is through technology-assisted interventions. Health connection products for seniors have been found to reduce social isolation and loneliness in seniors.
A video intercom service, for example, supports and engages seniors by bringing families closer together regardless of the miles that separate them. For seniors with hearing loss, a hearing-impaired phone that displays captions of everything the caller says on a large display screen helps improve communication and reduces loneliness.
Given that internet use is on the rise by seniors, these modes of communication are useful tools for maintaining beneficial connections between isolated seniors and their social networks.