Social Isolation: A Prescription for Poor Health
Florida Blue Medicare works closely with the Florida Council on Aging (FCOA) to make sure our members can find needed resources in their communities. FCOA President Dr. Christine Cauffield wrote this message about the effects of social isolation on older adults and what to do to combat it.
Social isolation and loneliness are associated with increased mortality in older adults. Individuals age 60 and older who report feelings of loneliness have a 45 percent higher risk of death. Isolated seniors have a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline than those who do not experience social isolation. Caregivers are also at risk for social isolation. This is especially concerning as the COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of mandated isolation, particularly for those older adults who live in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. For several months, people living in these facilities have not had physical contact with loved ones, which further contributes to increased health risks attributed to social isolation.
Social isolation is linked to adverse health effects including dementia, increased risk for hospital readmission and increased risk of falls. Deteriorating mental or physical health may limit a person’s ability to participate in social interactions outside the home. Other risks of social isolation include depression, anxiety, poor nutrition, alcohol abuse, arthritis, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease and glaucoma. In fact, social isolation has been equated to the health risks of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Factors affecting the ability of older adults to engage in the outside world include mobility problems, the inability to drive, living in rural areas and having limited transportation options. Many older adults experience frailty, are retired, experience ageism and do not have opportunities to participate in the community. Tight budgets, especially for fixed incomes, also may limit the use of car services, dining out, or attending events that could combat their isolation.
It’s vital for good health to connect with others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial to connect with loved ones via telephone, video chats and other telecommunication avenues. Arrange for friendly check-ins for seniors and connect them with telehealth services that offer mental health and physical health care services. Communicate by sending cards and letters, assuring seniors they are not alone. Many agencies are offering in home services that provide older adults with face-to-face contact.
When our state is fully open for business, it’s imperative that seniors are reconnected to their communities. Most communities have Senior Centers that offer numerous activities for social engagement. Area Agencies on Aging provide a list of community resources that assist seniors in remaining active and connected.
Connect, connect and reconnect! It’s a prescription for good health.
Dr. Christine Cauffield, President, Florida Council on Aging
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