How does an older adult – or anyone for that matter – become socially isolated in a world so seemingly connected?
It’s a question that unfortunately has many answers and no one-size-fits-all solution. For starters, the senior demographic is generally less mobile and are at greater risk for health issues that could keep them at home and harder to reach. Even without their own health issues, those 65+ face the reality of their friends, spouse and older family members dealing with chronic illness or passing. Seniors who live far away from family are also at greater risk of finding themselves isolated from others over time.
The other reality is that many older adults have been socially isolated or lonely for years. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one-third of adults aged 45 and older admit to feeling lonely on a regular basis. Many of these lonely adults are immigrants, minorities, LGBTQ and other groups that have faced stigmas or other barriers that have prevented them from making close connections in their communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that the slope can be steep for seniors who deal with limited socialization. Social outlets such as senior centers and group activities provided at long-term care facilities were suddenly placed on hold and visits from family and friends were limited or even prohibited. While many younger adults have used technology to continue work and other activities, a survey from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) found that just 38% of seniors have felt comfortable using technology such as Zoom to interact with others.
Seniors are also the fastest growing demographic, outnumbering children under age 5 for the first time in human history. With limited resources to support the shift, the problem of senior isolation has grown exponentially in recent years.
So, what’s the good news? The good news is that while we can’t curb the problem overnight, with the help of caring individuals we can make a difference. Remember, it takes a village – a commitment from many – to create a world we all want to grow older in.
Here are a few easy ways you can help connect socially isolated seniors in your community:
- Write a letter – There’s no better way to show you value someone than by writing a thoughtful note or letter.
- Stop and say hello – We’re so busy with our lives that we often overlook our surroundings and who is around us. If you see a senior by themselves, stop and make a thoughtful connection.
- Volunteer or donate to a senior cause – Meals on Wheels and other senior-focused nonprofits are great ways to get out in the community and interact with those who don’t see many friendly faces. The Home instead Charities’ Give65 initiative is also a great fund to help those in need.