How to help seniors avoid social isolation

Social isolation can often pose serious health threats to the senior population, and it’s more common than most people may think. A recent study from the University of California, San Francisco found that approximately 43 percent of seniors felt lonely. Not only that, researchers discovered those who had feelings of loneliness were more likely to die during the course of the study than their less lonely counterparts. It’s important to foster an environment where seniors can stay socially engaged as they get older, and there are a number of factors that can help caregivers do just that.

Foster a sense of purpose
Perhaps more than anything, it’s important for seniors to have a sense of purpose once they’ve entered a retirement living setting. There’s no one activity that stands above the rest, but a wide variety of hobbies will help encourage seniors to be more socially active and less isolated. Even things as simple as a club that meets several times a week to play cards can have a positive impact. In a similar vein, volunteering can not only help seniors stay socially active but it can also fill them with a sense of purpose and fulfillment they may not have had since leaving the workforce.

Four-legged friends
It’s certainly not unusual for seniors to have a cat or dog, and a growing amount of research suggests they may be able to enjoy better physical and mental health by taking care of a four-legged friend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seniors who own pets often enjoy lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as increased opportunities for socialization with other pet owners. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that pets tend to strengthen social relationships and generally make their owners happier.

Transportation is key
It can be especially difficult for seniors to avoid social isolation if they no longer drive. As a result, it’s important for family caregivers to ensure their loved ones are not without a way to get from place to place. There are many options to help older adults get around, especially through congregate housing arrangements, which often provide group outings that can help seniors build up social bonds as well.

Turn to technology
Social media has become a part of everyday life for nearly every generation, and that is no different for the senior population. In fact, a recent poll from the Pew Research Center found that approximately 43 percent of adults 65 and older say they use social media, which is an increase of about 30 percent in the last four years.

“Younger adults are especially avid adopters, but social networking continues to grow in popularity for older adults as well,” the report said. “Six out of ten internet users ages 50-64 are social networking site users, as are 43 percent of those ages 65 and older.

But while social media use is increasing among the senior population, is it good for their health? A study from experts at the University of Arizona seems to suggest yes. Researchers found that older adults who were taught how to use Facebook performed 25 percent better on cognitive tests after the study had run its course compared to exams taken at the beginning. Perhaps most of all, social media can help seniors stay in touch family members and friends who may live hours away.