Wellness Tips for Isolated Seniors with Health Conditions and How to Get Them Treatment
Learn about how wellness tips can help socially isolated seniors with health conditions.
Who Are Considered Senior Citizens?
Most people think of a senior citizen as someone who is older and retired, but surprisingly, there is no exact definition of what it means to be a senior citizen. To businesses that offer senior discounts, a senior citizen is often considered someone fifty-five years and older; however, Social Security benefits are not offered to older adults until they reach age sixty-two. There is also the idea that senior citizens are people who have retired, but retirement ages vary greatly.
Some may find it better to categorize a senior citizen by the type of lifestyle a person lives. For example, an active, working, and healthy sixty-year-old may not be considered a senior citizen, while an unwell or housebound fifty-five-year-old would be considered a senior citizen. Either way, older adults and senior citizens often face a unique struggle that younger people don’t always have to deal with: social isolation.
Activities Affected by Age
As we age, our ability to do things we enjoy sometimes dwindles. For example, people who enjoy sports and other active hobbies may find that their bodies are unable to handle intense physical activity as they age, or even people who love to travel might avoid traveling as they get older due to health problems. The risk of losing a spouse or a family member increases as we get older. As our lifestyles change, the risk for social isolation grows. According to a study, most senior citizens spend their time watching TV, seeing family, and going to church.1
While these hobbies can be enough social interaction for some, it may leave others unsatisfied or not be an option. Older adults who aren’t religious and don’t have family nearby may find themselves very isolated from the world around them. The physical (and sometimes mental) limitations of old age can inhibit senior citizens from trying new things, leading to social isolation and loneliness. Fortunately, there are many wellness tips to consider for people struggling with social isolation.
Creating a Life of Purpose for Seniors
What Are the Causes of Social Isolation and Loneliness?
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), more than one-third of adults aged forty-five and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged sixty-five and older are socially isolated.2
The causes of social isolation and loneliness in seniors can be a combination of factors or one overarching factor. Some older adults will isolate themselves by choice; that choice may be fueled by personality, depression, illness, or other mental health conditions that cause them to want to be alone.
Factors and Examples
Unfortunately, there are many factors that lead to social isolation and loneliness. For example, the death of a spouse or a divorce, especially if that spouse was a primary source of social interaction, can increase loneliness and isolation. Thus, the grief brought on by losing a spouse, whether through death or divorce, can lead to depression and further social isolation.
Family can be a great source of happiness and social interaction for the elderly, but unfortunately, not everyone has family to rely on. Some people may live far away from their families, and others may not have close family relationships in general. This happens more often to senior citizens with smaller families and those without children.
Other factors that may lead to social isolation symptoms for senior citizens include:
- Limited finances
- Impaired mobility
- Never having married
- Lack of access to social events due to rural living
- Discrimination (ageism, racism, homophobia)
- Lack of opportunities for older people to be involved in their communities
- Untreated mental health conditions
- Loss of hearing, vision, or cognitive ability
Ten Wellness Tips for Elderly to Combat Social Isolation
Although social isolation is more common for certain senior citizens, there are plenty of wellness tips to prevent and decrease feelings of loneliness. Read on to learn ten health and wellness tips to help social isolation.
Identify What Contributes to Social Isolation
Social isolation can have many causes, some more obvious than others. A sense of loneliness can affect someone even if they are surrounded by family and have a spouse. Sometimes, loneliness can stem from someone feeling like they’re not part of a community or feeling disconnected from their passions in life. Social isolation symptoms may be caused by changeable things such as not seeing family enough or not having hobbies. So, figuring out what is causing social isolation is the first wellness tip to consider when improving feelings of loneliness.
Start a Creative Project
A great wellness tip for senior citizens is to get in touch with their creative side. Even if they don’t consider themself a creative person, we all have the ability to try new things and use our imaginations. Some creative hobbies include cooking, drawing, painting, writing, scrapbooking, chess, knitting, and many more.
Find Time to Exercise Regularly
One of the most important wellness tips to keep in mind is regular exercise. Exercising is important in all phases of life, but it’s especially important to keep our bodies moving as we get older to maintain strength and mobility. Life tends to become more sedentary as we age, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to get in exercise. Low impact activities like yoga, swimming, walking, and even gardening are great options to try. Studies show that gardening for just half an hour each day allows seniors to meet their physical needs, lowering blood pressure, improving mood, and decreasing stress.3
Take Care of a Plant or a Pet
Having the responsibility of taking care of a plant or pet can instill seniors with a sense of purpose. This is an especially important wellness tip for older people who live alone. Day-to-day life can feel very lonely and empty when a person spends most of their time home alone, so getting a plant or a pet can bring joy and purpose back into life, restoring wellness for seniors.
Take Breaks from Watching, Reading, or Listening to the News
This wellness tip can sometimes be difficult because it’s important to keep up with the news and stay informed. But the fact of the matter is that some of the events covered on the news can induce a lot of stress—and can be downright depressing. We are all watching difficult historical events unfold before us, and it has undoubtedly taken a toll. If someone is already struggling with loneliness or depression, constantly tuning into the news will likely worsen negative feelings.4
Be Mindful of Feelings of Stress, Worry, and Anxiety
Staying mindful is a good wellness tip to improve one’s well-being. When a person begins feeling stress, worry, or anxiety, they should take a few moments to ground themself. For example, breathing through the negative emotions and allowing oneself to feel them but not allowing them to take over. Being mindful of feelings can help keep things in perspective for seniors experiencing loneliness and isolation. It’s a way to manage hard feelings without suppressing them.
Schedule Hearing and Vision Tests Regularly
Throughout the pandemic, many older adults have put off medical care in fear of getting COVID.5 Nonetheless, maintaining physical health and keeping up with examinations is important as we get older. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can actually be caused by changes in sight or hearing, preventing older individuals from connecting with others in the ways they used to.
Become Comfortable with Technology
Technology has its pros and cons, like anything else, but one thing it’s great for is connecting with other people. Using social media to keep in touch with friends and family is one way to lessen the loneliness that results from social isolation. Those who struggle to understand how to use newer technologies can always find help through online tutorials or by asking a friend or family member for help.
Get Involved in Social Activities
This health tip is easier said than done, especially in recent times; however, becoming involved in social events can work wonders for mental health. If someone is not involved in their community, they can push themselves to try something new and discover what’s out there. For example, signing up for an online class, a senior book club, or a gardening club. People often find themselves surprised by how much they enjoy it.
Consider Safe Senior Living
Some people may be hesitant to consider moving to a senior living community, but it could be a great option for those with loneliness and isolation. There, seniors have access to everything they need to live a fulfilling life, from wellness centers to onsite medical care from geriatric specialists. Senior living can also be a great place to meet new people, further lessening feelings of loneliness.
A Further Look: Isolation and Senior Citizens
Health Risks of Social Isolation
Social isolation is not only mentally taxing—it can also have very serious physical health risks. Along with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, studies indicate that prolonged social isolation can severely impact the body. Social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes. Research suggests the effects of loneliness on the body can be as bad or worse than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure.6
Evidence has shown that social isolation and isolation issues can have negative effects on cognition and increases the risk of dementia by about 50%. Loneliness and social isolation symptoms are also associated with an increased risk of heart disease and an increased risk of stroke. In addition, heart failure patients who experience loneliness face an increased risk of hospitalization by 70%, emergency room visits by 57%, and death by four times compared to those who do not.7
All these potential risks demonstrate how dire it is to find social isolation interventions, follow health and wellness tips, and seek other ways to help the elderly.
Five Most Common Health Concerns for Seniors
It’s important to be aware of potential health issues that may arise as we age. Read on to understand the most common health concerns for seniors and health tips to prevent them and treat them.
Heart disease is the most common health condition in older people, and it is also the number one cause of death. Frequent causes of hospital visits in seniors with heart problems include coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and atrial fibrillation. It’s important for people to talk with their doctor or geriatric specialist to determine the best wellness tips specialized for their specific needs. Additionally, avoiding smoking, keeping a healthy weight, and eating a healthy diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat can keep the heart healthy.
Respiratory diseases in seniors can be more complex than respiratory issues in younger people. Some of the most common respiratory issues in seniors include asthma, bronchitis, COPD, emphysema, and lung cancer. Some respiratory diseases can’t be prevented, but avoiding smoking, seeing a doctor regularly, and keeping track of any respiratory symptoms are important health tips.
Cognitive Health Issues
Cognitive issues like dementia, Alzheimer’s, confusion, depression, and sleep disorders are common in older adults. In some cases, social connections and close personal relationships can improve or prevent these issues, but medical treatment is often needed.
Vision or Hearing Loss
Sensory impairment is very common in older adults. Losing sight and hearing can negatively affect the quality of life and lead to social isolation. Wellness tips for seniors with hearing and vision loss include visiting the doctor or geriatric specialist frequently and utilizing hearing aids and low-vision aids if necessary.
It is estimated that 33% of adults over age sixty-five have diabetes. Diabetes can lead to serious health complications like vision loss, nerve damage, kidney disease, stroke, and heart disease if left untreated. Diabetes can be managed with medications and diet changes.8
Elder abuse, defined as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person,” is another risk associated with social isolation. Social isolation makes older adults more vulnerable to elder abuse because seniors may not have advocates, finances, or knowledge of the abuse to prevent it. An estimated one in ten adults aged sixty and older experience elder abuse every year in the United States. This includes physical, sexual, or psychological abuse and financial exploitation and neglect by caregivers. To make matters worse, elder abuse cases are rarely reported, with just one in twenty-four cases detected and reported to the appropriate authorities.9
Health Care for the Elderly
Treating older people struggling with isolation issues, loneliness, and other health conditions can be complex, and treatment is always unique to specific individuals. Health and wellness tips are a good start for managing social isolation symptoms, but some health conditions require more intensive treatment.
Out of all age groups in the United States, seniors use the most medicines, including prescription medications, over-the-counter remedies, and supplements. Commonly, wellness for seniors often requires taking medications to greatly improve health conditions.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that prescribing multiple medications increases the risk of drug interactions and negative side effects, such as dehydration, cognitive issues, and nutrient deficiencies. For this reason, elderly patients need to maintain communication and regular appointments with their doctors so they can be closely monitored and thoroughly informed about potential drug interactions.10
Aging in the Healthcare System
Ideal health care for the elderly involves home visiting doctors or geriatric doctors who can regularly check up on patients, monitor medications, and offer professional health tips and recommendations. A geriatrician specializes in senior medical care and age-related issues, focusing on keeping seniors as healthy as possible so they can maintain a good quality of life. These specialists also work with caregivers and family members to ensure the best care possible. Geriatric doctors have extensive knowledge and wellness tips for the following issues:11
- Fall injuries, causes and treatment
- Depression in the elderly
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Sensory impairment issues
Additional Senior Medical Care Options
Other senior medical care services include government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veteran’s Administration, which assist in covering fees related to medical issues as well as the costs for nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
For seniors with isolation and health issues, an assisted living facility can help with treating social isolation symptoms and various health conditions they may have. Assisted living facilities provide professional assistance with everyday activities and medication management and offer community events and outings that allow seniors to connect with others, improving feelings of loneliness.
Nursing homes provide rehabilitative care for seniors who have just been in the hospital, and they also offer convalescent care for seniors with chronic health issues. Nursing homes allow for one-on-one care from registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.
Available in forty-three states, the Partnership for Long-Term Care is a program that combines private long-term care insurance and Medicaid long-term care coverage to help Medicaid users keep more of their assets while still being eligible for coverage.
Additionally, the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) offers integrated Medicare and Medicaid benefits for seniors who want to receive social, medical, and long-term care at home rather than in a nursing home. Note that PACE is available in twenty-eight states.