How to Combat Social Isolation in Seniors 

« Back to All Blogs
A group of elder individuals at a book club combatting social isolation in seniors
April 25, 2024

With aging comes room for a great deal of relaxation. Previously, you likely had to work around other individuals in an office and chose to spend time with friends during your time off. Now that you are a senior, you may be retired and be spending much more time alone at home. Your friends who are retired as well may also be spending time relaxing and catching up on alone time. And, more than anything, you may feel too weak and tired to get out of the house and spend time in your community. This increase in time to unwind may be soothing for your mind after years of hard work and daily socializing, but for many, it can also cause social isolation and loneliness. 

Being a senior can make you feel detached from the world around you, and this can become a very difficult feeling to deal with. You once felt like a social butterfly, always chit-chatting and having fun with friends and peers, and now you feel more like a hermit. Although they may be hard to deal with, addressing and combating these feelings of isolation is vital for seniors to maintain their health and avoid developing mental disorders related to isolation, such as depression [1]. Keep reading this blog post for reasons why social isolation is so prevalent in seniors and how to reduce these feelings. 

What is Social Isolation in Seniors?

Social isolation can be described as feelings of disconnectedness from the people around you. However, what it encompasses relates to a lot more than just physical solitude. Social isolation often includes feelings of loneliness, which is a personal feeling that comes up when the social isolation you are experiencing is inadequate to your needs for connectedness. Everyone has different needs for connection, which means that the same stimuli may not make all people feel lonely. However, loneliness is a very common feeling, and according to a research study, about 33% of adults over 60 years old feel lonely, and 50% experience social isolation [2]. This can feel like standing in a crowded room of people and still feeling a lack of connection to them as if you are invisible. It is missing out on relating and socializing with others, as well as warm and real companionship. 

Anyone and everyone can feel social isolation, especially during times of their lives in which they are physically spending more time alone. This is why seniors experience social isolation and loneliness at a higher degree than most other individuals [3]. 

What Causes Senior Isolation? 

Are you wondering why seniors experience social isolation more often than younger individuals? Variables that may contribute to these feelings in seniors include: 

  • Physical health limitations: When your body is not as strong and fit as it used to be when you were younger, it can become more difficult to be out and about in public. This reduces one’s chances of meeting new friends and simply being around people in public places, like outside on a walk or at the gym. The lack of activity outside your home can lead to feeling left out or detached from the world around you, cultivating feelings of loneliness. 
  • Loss of loved ones: Losing someone important to you can leave a big void in your life. The time we used to spend with them, you may now feel like you must spend all alone. You will likely miss their company, advice, and simply having someone to spend your time with. This loss of a loved one can make you feel very alone, especially if this person was your spouse and/or best friend. You may be surrounded by other peers you enjoy the company of, but it often just doesn’t feel the same. This can lead to you feeling very alone [4]. 
  • Limited mobility: When it is hard to move around freely without joint pain or aches, which are common in old age, you may find yourself sitting down at home more often and living a sedentary lifestyle [5]. This can lead to opting out of social events or gatherings with friends and family due to the physical discomfort you know you will feel if you decide to go out. Feeling stuck inside in one place can make you feel isolated from what is happening in the world around you. 
  • Lack of transportation: Many seniors choose not to drive when they reach a certain age due to a lack of mobility and motor skills, loss of vision, or a general decrease in attention span [6]. This can make getting from one place to another very frustrating and can result in skipping important appointments and social activities. This can make seniors feel cut off from the world around them and discontent with their situation. 
  • Financial constraints: Concerns about money and savings can be a heavy and complicated burden on seniors [7]. Financial constraints can limit one’s ability in social activities, travel, or even afford basic needs like groceries and clothing, which can get pricey. This can lead to feelings of isolation and depression, as seniors may wish they could keep up with the lives they once lived. 

The Impact of Social Isolation on Seniors

Social isolation among seniors exerts a multifaceted toll, encompassing mental, physical, and cognitive dimensions that profoundly shape their well-being. Common effects of social isolation in seniors include:

  • Mental health effects: Social isolation can be a heavy weight to carry, especially if you are already dealing with mental health concerns or conditions. These mental health effects can feel like a cloud of sadness hanging over you and can bring on more serious mental health conditions, like depression and/or anxiety. This can make it way more difficult for seniors to enjoy their everyday lives and feel content with where they are in life. 
  • Physical health implications: Being socially isolated can make it more likely for seniors to feel stressed, which can affect the immune system negatively. This makes seniors more likely to contract illnesses. Research has shown that partaking in more social interaction can increase antiviral immunity [8], as long as you are staying hygienic. 
  • Increased risk of cognitive decline: Without regular social connection, one can start to lose practice quickly responding to questions or jumping from topic to topic in a typical conversation. You may find it harder to remember things or stay focused and may feel like your brain feels “rusty” after spending so much time out of a social routine you once had down pat. 
  • Overall decline in quality of life: Social isolation and feelings of loneliness can make life a lot less exciting and nuanced. Without connections with other people, seniors may feel like they are losing their purpose and living the same day over and over, which can of course decrease their quality of life. 

How to Combat Social Isolation in Seniors 

Social isolation can feel debilitating, but thankfully, there are ways to combat and improve it, such as: 

Community Involvement

  • Joining local clubs or groups: This provides seniors with a chance to make regular social interactions and create a sense of belonging while participating in hobbies they already enjoy or have always wanted to get into. For example, seniors can join a yoga group, book club, or painting class to get happiness and connection flowing. 
  • Participating in community events: These events can foster connections with neighbors and other people living nearby who you may have never gotten the chance to meet. After participating in community events, your neighbors will become friendly faces instead of strangers! 
  • Volunteering opportunities for seniors: This is a great way to give purpose and meaning to your life while engaging with others socially, increasing your self-worth and decreasing isolation at the same time. 

Utilizing Technology 

  • Introduction to technology for seniors: Technology can feel intimidating to those not used to its complexities, but introducing seniors to simple and user-friendly technology sources opens up tools for communication and connection with distant friends and family members they may not otherwise be able to see in person. This helps seniors maintain relationships and practice communication at the lift of a finger [9]. 
  • Social media and communication apps: Likewise, social media and communication apps are convenient ways for seniors to stay in touch, share experiences, be creative, and feel more connected to the people around them. 
  • Online classes and virtual activities: These can provide opportunities for seniors to expand their minds and learn something new from the comfort of their homes, while still staying mentally active and conversing with other online users. For example, seniors can take a creative writing course. 

Keeping Up with Family Connections 

  • Importance of family engagement: Prioritizing communication with family is important to maintain connections, even if the communication is simply through a text or call. 
  • Regular family visits and gatherings: Regularly visiting family members and making an effort to go to family gatherings is important to maintain and strengthen family bonds. You may create some lovely memories at these get-togethers while reducing feelings of loneliness. 
  • Utilizing video calls for remote connections: Video calls are an easy way to connect remotely and allow for “face-to-face” conversation. 

Engaging in Hobbies and Interests 

  • Identifying and pursuing hobbies: This provides enjoyment and offers opportunities to meet like-minded individuals and potential new friends. 
  • Joining hobby-related groups: Group activities are always preferred to solo activities when it comes to combating social isolation, whether they be in person or online. 
  • Attending local events related to interests: making an effort to attend local events if you can will likely be a fun way to create meaningful social connections through shared passions. 

When to Seek Professional Help for Isolation 

Recognizing the signs of social isolation among seniors is paramount to safeguarding their mental and emotional well-being. Common signs for seeking professional help include:

  • Recognizing signs of social isolation intervention: It is endlessly important for seniors to stay away from their feelings, especially when they include loneliness or disconnection. Additionally, seniors should make an effort to notice when their social behaviors change, as this can be a sign of social isolation that may benefit from intervention. 
  • Importance of seeking professional assistance: Professionals, like counselors and/or therapists, can provide new perspectives and tools for managing feelings of loneliness and social isolation, providing seniors with tasks for mitigating these feelings. 
  • Overview of senior primary care mental health services: Senior-focused primary care prioritizes mental health just as much as physical health, and practices for senior mental health screenings during check-ups [10]. Professionals in the field are aware that social isolation is a prevalent issue for seniors, which is why they have a wide range of options for addressing mental health concerns and improving the overall well-being of seniors. 

Primary Care Mental Health Services for Seniors 

With the proper tools and hard work, seniors can combat social isolation. Reach out to Greater Good Health for assistance and practical advice on this, and schedule an appointment today!