According to the National Institute on Aging, nearly three in ten American seniors live alone. Independent living has its challenges, one of them being that seniors spend more time alone, which can greater impact their mental and physical health. In fact, loneliness has been linked to everything from heart disease to Alzheimer’s disease because the stress of chronic loneliness triggers a “flight or fight” response that puts our body on a constant high alert. Services for seniors that support socialization like those provided in assisted living, can help prevent the negative effects of loneliness and isolation, and lead to a more positive and active lifestyle.
As seniors age, they become at higher risk for experiencing a life of isolation. Many factors can contribute to this— being over the age of 80, preexisting chronic health conditions, limited contact with friends and family, and lack of resources. Although social isolation can affect many areas of senior living, it’s particularly harmful in the case of mental health. An article from the CDC discusses a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine which concluded that loneliness and social isolation were associated with approximately a 50% increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
It’s important to recognize when to intervene in your senior loved ones lifestyle because social isolation can be a depressing cycle— the shock of social isolation has been linked to increased inflammation in the body, causing the immune system to affect a region of the brain processing fear and anxiety. “Inflammation can change people’s experiences of the social world and what they’re thinking,” says Naomi Eisenberger, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “That could make us more apprehensive about social interaction and lead to more isolation.”
As previously mentioned, socialization has been shown to be one of the most effective ways for seniors to improve their mental health. Dr. Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic psychologist said it best—“We are social animals by nature, so we tend to function better when we’re in a community setting and being around others.” Socializing creates meaningful connections, and has many more benefits than simply getting you out of the house or keeping your brain stimulated, though this benefit can’t be overstated. Experts have proven that socialization among older adults not only keeps the brain sharp, but it can even decrease the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A Sense of Community
For seniors who may be showing early signs of Alzheimer’s or are in need of memory care, an assisted living community would be a great option to incorporate more socialization into their lifestyle. Many senior communities allow residents live close to their neighbors and are surrounded by staff, which is reassuring if friends or family don’t live nearby or aren’t able to visit often.
The opportunities for socialization are plentiful at senior living communities— many offer group transportation to medical centers, shopping, and restaurants. In these outings, your loved one can engage with others in their assisted living community, get fresh air, and continue to live a life of normalcy. Another wonderful aspect of assisted living is the support network. It’s common for seniors to have lost family or a close friend in their later stage of life, so socializing within assisted living can help cultivate friendships with people who’ve been through the same life transition, and who can be a source of support and understanding.
If you have a senior loved one who has been showing signs of depression and social isolation, consider the many online resources that can help find an assisted living community best suited for their needs. Keeping seniors physically and socially active and engaged is key to keeping them both physically and mentally healthy and happy.