Recognize the symptoms of social isolation in seniors

There are many factors that go into a senior’s chances at a healthy retirement. Nutrition and physical activity both play significant roles, but their social interactions also contribute greatly. A recent study from University College London reveled just how important social engagement is to healthy aging. Researchers there found that older adults who are away from friends and family have about a 26 percent higher death risk over a seven-year period, according to findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Given the negative impact social isolation can have on seniors, it’s important for family caregivers to keep their eyes open for signs their loved ones may be withdrawing or isolated.

Loss of interest
One of the most tell-tale symptoms of social isolation is if seniors start to lose interest in hobbies or activities that once interested them. For instance, if your mother or father has long been an avid reader, but you notice that he or she is no longer finishing book after book, it may be a symptom of something larger. Similarly, if you notice that your parent is spending less time outside the home than he or she used to or is generally disinterested in pursuing an active lifestyle, it may be indicative of social isolation.

Signs of depression
Depression and social isolation often go hand in hand, so it’s important for you to be on the lookout for similar symptoms. For instance, growing irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss and vague complaints of pain are all indicators of depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Such symptoms may be a signal that seniors are becoming more socially withdrawn, and should spur action by family caregivers.

How to help
Of course, recognizing the signs of depression is just one part of the process. It’s also essential that family caregivers take steps to encourage their loved ones to become more socially engaged. There are a number of interventions that have proven to be successful, and according to the British Columbia Ministry of Health, one of the most successful options is to encourage seniors to volunteer. Experts say that not only will it help the community as whole, but volunteering fills seniors with a sense of purpose and responsibility.