Doctors attribute numerous health conditions to loneliness
How facilities are ﬁghting back against senior social isolation
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine suggests that social isolation among the elderly could be solved with a little help from long-term care. Sponsored by AARP, the study focused on adults aged 50 and older.
For those belonging to poorer communities and other underserved populations, the risk for loneliness was greater, as many live alone and experience “loss of family or friends, chronic illness and sensory impairments.” Since primary care physicians and other professionals may be seniors’ only point of routine contact, they have an obligation to help “identify, prevent and mitigate” such risks before they spiral into serious health problems.
Alongside their ﬁndings, researchers published a list of recommendations for clinical settings, as well as target interventions for patients deemed vulnerable.
Strength through social contact
Leading an isolated lifestyle oﬅen aﬀects the most critical areas of older people’s lives. Without access to food, housing, transportation (or loved ones to intervene in the absence of such essentials), their quality of life suﬀers. Sadly, the emotion of loneliness is also a main contributor to the deterioration of seniors’ mental and physical health.
“A substantial body of evidence demonstrates that social isolation presents a major risk for premature mortality,” says the study. “[Its impact is] comparable to other risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and obesity.”
The report concludes that long-term care providers may hold the key to timely intervention. Moving forward, professionals should receive more direct training and education in this aspect of care. Ideal curricula might include coverage of the eﬀects of social isolation, as well as what kinds of assessments and solutions are available. In general, boosting industry knowledge of social isolation will help facilities identify residents battling the social blues. Oﬅentimes, symptoms go unnoticed or ignored.
Also, the use of smartphones, home alert systems, elder care robots and other popular assistive technologies are only beneﬁcial when they operate properly. If adults cannot easily use them, such senior-centric tools “might actually exacerbate loneliness.” And remember: even the most sophisticated devices should never be used as a substitute for real human interaction.