As we hurry from store to store buying presents for loved-ones and shopping for food to create festive meals, it’s easy to forget that for many isolated seniors, the holidays are not a time for celebration. Instead of joy, the season can trigger acute loneliness and depression. Elderly adults living alone who may not have regular transportation can slip through the cracks of community services and sometimes go days without seeing or talking to another person when family and caregivers are busy with their own lives.
Social isolation is more than just the holiday blues; seniors who are not engaged with their communities can suffer physically. Studies have found that older adults who do not feel they are valued members of society can slip into depression, withdrawing from others and failing to eat or sleep properly, get regular exercise or keep doctor appointments. Social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of mortality in older adults and may lead to a quicker cognitive decline in some seniors.
Caregivers of the elderly, especially those with dementia, can also become socially isolated as a result of the demands of their duties and have little time to foster their own well-being. Finding respite care and taking a family caregiver out for an afternoon of pampering could be the best gift you give this year. If you aren’t sure if you or a loved-one might be at risk for social isolation and the harm it can cause, take a look at the following self-assessment checklist:
- I live alone
- I see or talk to family once or more a week
- I see or talk to friend one or more times a week
- I provide daily care to family member
- Transportation is available readily
- I need help leaving home
- I feel valuable, making a meaningful contribution to society
- I lack companionship
- I participate in weekly social activities
- I feel left out
- I have someone to talk to about problems
- I have someone to share good news or an interesting story with
- I have suffered a major loss or change (death, divorce or retirement) in the last year
Based on the answers to these self-questions, you may be at risk and experiencing isolation.
Source: AARP Foundation
Feeling isolated? Volunteering or taking a class can be an excellent way to combat loneliness. For more resources or to take the online assessment, visit the AARP Foundation Connect2Affect website at connect2affect.org.