Reducing Social Isolation in Older Adults

Written by: Maliha Safilullah

Maliha Safiullah is a Former Correspondent for 60 Minutes, Channel Nine Australia and is a published writer having worked as a Feature Writer for Dawn News.

Considering that humans are social animals who have flourished in collective systems of people, they are least thrilled with the likelihood of aging alone. Unfortunately, in many societies, social networks are likely to dissipate as people grow older, resulting in isolation and loneliness for many. As the baby boomers cross the age of 65, they are most likely to have lost either a spouse or partner, are separated from friends or family, retired or have a loss of mobility and this leads to many of the older adults to end up feeling entirely alone.

What is Social Isolation in Older Adults?

Social isolation in older adults may be defined as withdrawal from relations with society members, groups and communities and in several cases this ceasing to function as an active member of society leads to chronic loneliness. Various studies suggest that loneliness and social isolation in older adults impact health and mortality with direct correlation to effects on blood pressure, heart condition, weight loss or gain and immunity.

Gradually, losing connections with relations, struggling to understand the continually changing dynamics of society and the onslaught of technological advancement with a decline of age can surely change how a person perceives the world. An older adult experiencing chronic loneliness, may feel persistently susceptible and doubtful of others, which can then activate a biological response. The effect of loneliness on the human physiology may be comprehended through the various insights provided by researches conducted the world over to determine the link of loneliness on a person’s health. The conclusions derived by most these researches have aided in  determining how loneliness stemming from isolation is detrimental to health and has also provided meaningful understanding into social isolation in older adults statistics.

These research conclusions included how loneliness impacts the acceleration in the increase of plaque in arteries; aids in the growth and spread of cancer cells; and stimulates inflammation in the brain that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, loneliness impacts the immune system by weakening immune cells resulting in older adults being susceptible to viruses and other infectious diseases. Keeping the current COVID-19 pandemic in mind, the ill-effects of social isolation on older adults requires a thorough understanding of the risks involved on the mental and physical health of an individual and the consequential correlation of loneliness on an older adult’s mortality.

In view of the current pandemic situation when physical contact is impractical, social relationships are being upheld through telephone contact, video calls and social media. And while interactions relying on technology may not feel the same as in-person meetings, they may still reduce the sense of isolation and are far better than no interactions at all. For older adults, any contact, through any medium, results in reducing feelings of loneliness since they have a chance to be in touch with their children, family or friends. This in turn results in a happier state of being where an older adult gains a sense of belonging in a social network, he/she anticipates the weekly or bi-weekly call and hence has something positive to look forward to, and so his/her physical, mental and emotional health improves in the process.

How To Prevent Social Isolation in Older Adults

In order to prevent social isolation in older adults, it is imperative to comprehend the living situation and the current circumstance they face. They are particularly vulnerable to social isolation or loneliness not only because of COVID-19 and its ill-effects but they may also be dealing with the loss of a partner, distancing from friends and family, lack of mobility or confinement to a limited space. Loneliness and social isolation in older adults effects their quality of life and both mental and physical health which may increase their use of medical health services.

The required interventions to reduce social isolation and loneliness in older adults starts first by creating a platform that engages them and empowers them to take charge of not only their health stats but also provides them with textual or video content based on their interests. It can further engage them with a selected community with whom they can interact with, learn from others and be mentored and coached.

LocateMotion’s device-agnostic system permits users to keep track of all their vitals, medications, appointments, and be able to share their information with their doctors, health providers or caregivers. This empowers an older adult to be in control of their own health and receive all medical assistance while being at home if they are either restricted because of COVID-19 or due to lack of mobility. The system provides care with professionals available for mentoring that assuredly improve mental well-being.

Furthermore, online mentoring sessions may benefit mental and emotional health but older adults need their share of exercise and should be provided with the opportunity to access virtual exercise classes that may differ according to the user’s ability to work out. From light stretches, easy cardio to breathing exercises provided as a group-class or individual one-on-one session will not only boost their physical well-being but also result in positive feelings owing to the endorphins released.

Activities for older adults while restricted in one space are rather limited owing largely to the fact that engaging an individual remotely and through technology might pose several hindrances but they can be introduced to an online social group or online gaming groups that may offer both support and entertainment. Not only would such a practice reduce their sense of isolation but provide high satisfaction when faced with a rudimentary routine day in day out. The health benefits of this are also plentiful since such services will not only increase their social interaction but will also give them a sense of belonging in a community.

For certain older adults, according to their requirements, these services can be adapted to be one-to-one where they can select a relative or friend they are comfortable interacting with. And though, group activities may be significantly more enjoyable, a one-on-one system can function just as well and be customized according to the demands of the user.

LocateMotion’s interest in personal interactions serves as an opportunity to provide care to older adults and treatment suggestions when required, but also to connect on a meaningful level at a time when they are anxious, vulnerable and possibly feel alone.