Monday, July 16, 2012

Senior Loneliness: Consequences and Solutions

According to a recent New York Times article, loneliness can have potentially serious health consequences for seniors, including earlier loss of physical functioning and even premature death.

In a recent study, 1,604 adults age 60 and older were periodically asked over the course of a few years how often they felt isolated or left out, or lacked companionship.  A whopping 43% of elder adults reported feelings of loneliness: 13% of older adults said they were often lonely, while 30% said loneliness was sometimes an issue. 

The difference between adults who felt lonely and adults who did not was also startling—“24.8% of seniors in the lonelier group reported declines in their ability to perform the so-called activities of daily living — to bathe, dress, eat, toilet and get up from a chair or a bed on their own.”  Only 12.5% in the loneliness-free group reported similar declines.  In addition, the lonelier adults were 45% more likely to die than others.

The link between good mental health and good physical health is nothing new. There has been a lot of research in recent years showing the link between strong social networks and longevity and health for humans.  For the elderly, this means not feeling “cut off” by society or “written off” as they age.  Loneliness can be alleviated by the person’s subjective feelings of being listened to, cared about, and needed by others.  Loved ones, neighbors, and caretakers should realize the inherent value of reaching out to the elderly, whether to lend a helping hand or a listening ear.

Furthermore, seniors and individuals with disabilities should be encouraged to participate in more social activities in which they engage in meaningful interaction with others.  In the long term care world, a great example of this is Joy Through Art, an organization founded by HBO star Dominic Chianese, to improve the lives of nursing home residents through musical performances and activities. 

Skilled nursing and assisted living facilities provide caring environments that are effective in discouraging loneliness and encouraging deeper connections among seniors.  Just about every facility has an activity director that keeps these connections alive through activities especially designed for their residents and patients. Dedicated, caring caregivers also make a big difference in the day-to-day quality of life for seniors.  Lakeview Terrace Skilled Nursing Facility, an AHCA member located in central Florida, is a great example of a facility that is committed to enabling seniors to live a more social lifestyle—they provide regular lane bowling, bocce courts, a golf course, and an enticing dining hall setting.

Encouraging deep, meaningful connections with seniors can happen in a variety of ways. How are you doing it?

1 comment:

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