Social isolation and loneliness are both common among the aging population. As people age, they often struggle to maintain their social networks because of changes in physical abilities and other factors. For example, research shows that loneliness is common among the elderly (Manning et al., 2007). In fact, a 2015 study found that more than half of Americans aged 65 and older said they had experienced isolation at least once in their lifetime.
However, many seniors do not recognize the negative effects that social isolation and loneliness have on them or how they affect their families when they occur. Social isolation occurs when people do not live near others of the same sex, race or age group. It can also be caused by being home alone a lot as an adult or choosing not to live near friends or family members as a senior citizen (Bolan & Paynter, 2012). Loneliness typically occurs when one person is left at home alone for extended periods of time.
How Social Isolation and Loneliness Impact the Elderly
Social isolation and loneliness have been found to have negative long-term effects on the health of the elderly. These effects may include increased risk for falls, muscle spasms, and depression. Seniors who decrease the amount of time spent socializing with friends and family are at risk for developing health problems. Additionally, people who are socially isolated have lower self-esteem, which can make it more difficult to go to support groups or seek help for other mental health issues.
The Long-Term Effects of Social Isolation
The long-term effects of social isolation and loneliness for the elderly are not well studied, but they are likely to be negative. These effects may include feelings of sadness or worthlessness, lower cognitive ability, and an increased risk of committing a crime. The negative effects of social isolation and loneliness are likely to be greater for older people who are less physically and mentally capable of complex activities.
Because people who are socially isolated often feel that they have less control over their lives than those who are not, they are more likely to seek out support groups for the lonely. Getting support from friends, family, and peers can help a person feel more productive and able to handle situations that require more effort, like walking and using a wheelchair. Additionally, social interactions allow people to simply be with other people without having to think about how to treat others or how they feel.
How to Prevent or Reduce the Long-Term Effects of Social Isolation
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent or reduce the long-term effects of social isolation and loneliness. However, there are ways that people can reduce the symptoms and negative effects of both social isolation and loneliness. The best way to combat these challenges is to be aware of them and respond appropriately.
Strategies to Overcome Social Isolation
Many people who are socially isolated and/or lonely turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with the effects of the feeling. While this behavior is understandable and appropriate when one is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, these same behaviors, when done unsupervised, can have serious and even life-threatening consequences. Therefore, it is important to recognize the signs of social isolation and loneliness and then use skills and tools to overcome them. Here are some strategies that people can use to overcome social isolation and loneliness:
Be aware of your surroundings.
Make sure you have transportation to get to and from places.
Take care of your health.
Get enough sleep and exercise regularly.
Contact social groups when you need help.
Holistic treatments such as yoga and Tai Chi can help with altered states of consciousness.
Know and meet your social circle.
Engage in physical and mental exercise.
Learn to cook healthy meals.
Accept help with daily activities whenever you need it.
Stay active with hobbies that engage your mind.
Learn to cook decent meals.
Connect with others who are going through the same thing you are.
Don’t isolate yourself from the world.
Realize that you are going through a phase, and things will change when you feel ready.
Don’t forget to smile.
Cultivate healthy eating habits.
Learn to use a wheelchair.
Accept help when you need it.
Learn basic first-aid skills.
Recognize and name your emotions.
Accept that you are not a bad person.
Don’t forget to have fun while you still can!
Even though social isolation and loneliness have been discussed in relation to the elderly population, they are not only a problem for the elderly. Many younger people experience social isolation as well, and this can be harmful as well.
Both social isolation and loneliness can have negative effects on a person’s health, so it is important to recognize the signs and treat them accordingly. It is also important to note that people can overcome social isolation and loneliness. By being aware of the symptoms and using the skills mentioned above, individuals can learn how to overcome social isolation and loneliness.
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