Richard Holguin, UCLA
Historically, the most predicative indicator of social isolation among seniors has been whether one lives alone.
Statistics from the 2010 Census indicate that over 27% of adults over age 65 live alone – and the number increases dramatically for those 85 and older.
It is common for adults age 65 and older to have lost a spouse – often filling the role of best friend and social partner for years. Additionally, older adults are more likely to lose other family members or friends within their social circles.
Age often comes with a lack of mobility as well. Older adults often find it difficult to drive and some may lose their license. Chronic health issues may also limit older adults from traveling, either by car or other modes of transportation.
Since humans are inherently social creatures, living alone and decreased social interaction increases the chances of loneliness. Not being able to talk to others is difficult for people of all ages and older adults who experience loneliness are particularly prone to depression.
Aside from mental well-being, there are other dangers that may lead to social isolation. Serious medical ailments can potentially force someone to stay in their home, forcing them to rely on others to satisfy their physical, as well as emotional needs.
Additionally, isolated older adults are at risk for physical health issues. For instance, it may take hours or even longer for an isolated senior to get medical attention if they have a fall or medical emergency in their home.
The bottom line is that social isolation is a serious danger to mental and physical health.
So how do older adults reduce their risk of isolation? Some recommendations include getting involved in volunteer programs, embracing technology, and signing up for exercise classes at a gym. Whatever activities a senior enjoys, the important part is to cultivate a social circle while also maintaining independence.