We all feel lonely at times, but when loneliness and isolation become chronic it can be deadly. Mother Theresa understood that the pain of loneliness was devastating and stated “the biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody.” Studies show us what Mother Theresa seemed to know, loneliness increases risk of death by 45% and chance of developing dementia by 64%.
Many people in the elder community face daily social isolation. This might be due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation, to name just a few reasons a person might become isolated from society.
Human beings are social creatures. When we experience social isolation and loneliness, we are subject to a higher risk for a variety of physical and mental conditions– high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.
Conversely, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. These activities seem to help maintain their well-being and may improve their cognitive function.
Our communities have resources that can help with social isolation—volunteer programs, churches, social clubs, councils on aging/senior centers, community dining programs, and more. For elders who cannot leave their home, home delivered meals (Meals on Wheels) offer both a healthy lunch and a friendly visit for a few minutes from the driver delivering meals. The friendly visit is a critical component of the success of Meals on Wheels. It is not unusual to hear that the Meals on Wheels driver is the only person an elder sees during the day.
Throughout the pandemic shutdowns, we experienced the need for social distancing, and our elder friends and family were more at risk for social isolation than ever before. As a group at higher risk if they were to become infected with COVID, many found themselves feeling like prisoners in their own home. They could not visit with their children, grandchildren, and friends. They could not participate in volunteering, council on aging programs, church services, or most of the other activities that help them remain vital members of our community.
Think of how stir crazy we all became after several months at home. But remember, being home alone is an everyday occurrence and has been for years for many of our elder friends. Now that the world is getting back to “normal,” let’s try to remember how hard it was to look at the same walls day in and day out. Maybe it will help us remember to reach out to a friend a little more often than our busy lives have allowed in the past.
SeniorCare understands the issues of loneliness and social isolation on older Americans and has had programming such as the Meals on Wheels daily friendly visit for many years. In the past few years, the agency has introduced several innovative programs to help lessen the loneliness and isolation our consumers face regularly. Two of SeniorCare’s most exciting programs—care.coach and virtual reality—will be demonstrated at SeniorCare’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on September 22, 2022, at the Beauport Hotel. For more information and reservations to the celebration, visit www.seniorcareinc.org. To learn more about SeniorCare’s services, call 978-281-1750 and ask to speak with an Information & Referral specialist.