In 2050, the population of people over 65 will have nearly doubled from 2012, and while that’s not a bad thing, it does present some unique issues for that group of 83 million, including health-related concerns. One of the things that places seniors at higher risk of health issues, if not the chief thing, is social isolation. It’s not something we talk about in this country so focused on independence and self-sufficiency, but it’s something that affects every single one of us.
According to the US Census Bureau, 28 percent of our 65 and older population lives alone, and according to Medicare reports, this is costing us $6.7 billion in taxpayer money every year. Social isolation is expensive for those suffering from it, as well, costing them more in medical expenses as its effects set in. According to the Observer,
“One study published in the “British Medical Journal” found that feelings of isolation and loneliness in seniors between the ages of 65 and 86 led to a 64 percent increase in the risk of developing dementia, an extraordinary spike in odds highlighting the importance of fostering meaningful relationships at all stages of life. An additional study published in “JAMA Internal Medicine” reported that seniors experiencing strong feelings of loneliness felt debilitated in their everyday lives, resulting in trouble completing routine activities like bathing, getting dressed, walking and climbing stairs.”
So how can we start to solve this problem? We all know fostering strong social connections is important to maintaining an active mind and active body, but it can be difficult for seniors without family and friends to reach out, especially if they’re already exhibiting signs of dementia. Having the resources and tools to reach out before it’s too late should be at the forefront of health conversations with medical professionals and family members who are able to help their loved ones find social opportunities.
Local community outreach needs to include seniors, and we need to confront the myriad issues that come with aging more openly. If you know someone over 65 who is experiencing feelings of loneliness or is socially isolated, here are a few options to get them out in the community, aside from engaging them yourself: