Best Practices to Address Social Isolation in Seniors
Loneliness and social isolation are the most prevalent among seniors compared to other age groups. According to a study by the University of California - San Francisco, at least 43% of seniors report that they experience these feelings. Even more shocking, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine findings indicate that at least 24% of seniors are socially isolated. Studies have also shown that seniors living in long-term care facilities are two times more likely to feel lonely than their community-dwelling counterparts.
Because connection is vital to overall health it is imperative to ensure that seniors are provided with many opportunities to connect with others.
Know the Warning Signs
Seniors who live alone, who lack a support system, or who have lost a sense of independence are most at risk of social isolation. More women live alone than men, so women have a higher risk of being socially isolated. Independence, or the perception of it, is key to helping seniors feel like they are connected with others. And for seniors without a support system of close friends and involved family members, it is even more challenging to prevent loneliness and social isolation.
Recent data indicates the following risk factors for social isolation:
- Experiencing anxiety, depression, or any other mental health challenges
- The recent loss of a family member, partner, or close friend
- Recent and significant life changes such as employment, health, or finances
- Limited financial resources
- Unable to drive or lack of reliable transportation
- Decreased mobility or other problems with physical health
Impact of Social Isolation on Health
Social isolation can be detrimental to the health of seniors. According to the National Institutes on Aging, social isolation puts seniors at risk of developing the following health problems:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Weakened immune system
- Anxiety and depression
- Suicidal ideation or attempts
A study published in the Gerontologist also found that seniors who lived alone and reported higher loneliness and social isolation rates had a higher risk of experiencing cognitive impairment, which can lead to higher rates of mortality.
Seniors are also more likely to have physical or cognitive health problems in general, meaning it may be harder for them to move around and participate in activities with others. Therefore, it is even more imperative to ensure that seniors participate in events with others to prevent social isolation.
Tips on Tackling Social Isolation in Senior Living Communities
Tackling social isolation means investing in programs and activities that engage seniors. Here are some tips on how to do that:
- Host a variety of events. Not everyone enjoys the same types of events, so include a diverse array of activities to engage all seniors rather than small groups.
- Get families involved. Involving families in activities like family nights, holiday gatherings or special meals as much as possible fosters a sense of community.
- Talk to your residents. Spend time talking with residents to learn about activities that interest them and then develop new programs based on their interests.
- Make sure your residents know about events. Share activity calendars and send reminders to maximize participation.
- Identify people who are not engaging. Uncover the reasons why residents are not engaging in social activities and put corrective actions in place.
Combatting Social Isolation with Communication
Senior living communities can help reduce the risk for social isolation by improving communication with residents to create a sense of connectedness and community. Implementing a well-thought-out communication plan will keep you on track and will ensure consistent touch points with residents.
Technology can go a long way in helping to streamline communication processes. By automating communication, senior living communities can target the right people, with the right message, at the right time.
VoiceFriend Can Help
VoiceFriend is a HIPAA compliant, cloud-based communication automation and management platform that makes it easy for senior care organizations to share emergency and routine information with residents, families and staff in the language and method they prefer—phone, text, email, secure on-demand dial-in, or Alexa-enabled devices.
Here are some ways that senior care organizations use VoiceFriend to create a sense of community and connectedness with residents.
Create a Survey
Learn about how residents want to engage with one another by creating surveys to collect data on the types of activities that residents are interested in. Figuring out what activities will bring residents the most joy when interacting with their fellow residents is one way to get seniors to participate and engage.
Send Activity Reminders & Track Attendance
Promote activities and send reminders to maximize participation. Track which activities are the most popular, identify residents who are not engaging, and implement communications programs to maximize participation and engagement.
Acknowledge Birthdays and Milestones
Acknowledge notable events like birthdays and anniversaries. These simple messages can go a long way in making seniors feel appreciated and recognized.
Conduct Safety Checks
Automate safety checks to ensure residents are thriving and easily identify residents at risk.
To learn more about social isolation in seniors check out our infographic.
For more information about VoiceFriend, contact us here.