Feelings of isolation are something that many of us have, unfortunately, had to deal with over the past year, and which many of us are still struggling with. We’ve been disconnected from our social circles. We haven’t been able to take part in the activities that used to bring us joy. We haven’t been experiencing those small conversations with people at work. All of these things take a toll. While these were all necessary sacrifices in order to keep people safe, they still left an impact, and some have felt it more than others.
One group that has been hit hard by the need for isolation protocols has been seniors, as they are a group that was already vulnerable to isolation and loneliness. Restrictions are starting to ease in some parts of the country, but isolation sadly remains a problem for many seniors. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this, such as shrinking social circles, loss of contact with colleagues, mobility issues or other health concerns. As things slowly start to return to normal, one thing we must try to remember is to not underestimate the damaging effects that isolation can have on a person’s mental health.
Our connections to other people (our friends and loved ones) are what helps make our lives feel rich and fulfilling. When we’re alone, it can quickly become hard to maintain a positive outlook. Isolation can easily lead to feelings of increased stress, anxiety, and depression. The lack of social support can also result in an increase in unhealthy habits, such as inactivity or excessive drinking. In some extreme cases, people might start to experience suicidal ideation. Loneliness is not something that should be ignored or trivialized – it’s a serious matter.
Isolation can be especially damaging to seniors, who can also experience cognitive decline, complications to existing health-conditions and other health risks. When there is no one around to notice that someone’s health is deteriorating, the worst outcomes become increasingly more likely. With an estimated one-third of seniors living alone, the effects of isolation on their health and well-being is becoming a topic of increasing concern.
So, what can we do to combat senior loneliness and isolation?
Being a part of a community can go a long way to help someone achieve that feeling of connectedness that is so important to maintaining good mental health. Humans are social beings and most of us crave a sense of belonging, of feeling valued and cared for. This is where living in a retirement community can provide a lot of benefits, particularly to someone who is living independently and doesn’t want to sacrifice their freedom, but still wants to foster meaningful relationships and be able to experience regular face-to-face interactions with others.
Retirement communities offer a wide number of opportunities for socializing and forming new friendships. There are group activities and classes, which can be a terrific way to meet new people, and communal dining areas, which are wonderful places for a casual chat. Memorable occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries, are celebrated, ensuring that residents always have someone to share their special occasions with.
Having neighbors in the same age-range can be a huge benefit when it comes to forming new connections. Being surrounded by people who are at a similar place in their lives, and who may be experiencing similar challenges, can make it easier to open-up and build new friendships.
Just knowing that there are other people around you, who you can turn to when you are going through a tough time, or when you need some assistance, can be a huge relief and source of comfort. Having that community of people who care, and who will notice if something is wrong, goes a long way in helping a person to feel secure and valued.
For a long time, loneliness seemed to be something that people accepted as a normal part of aging. If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it should be that this mindset is unacceptable. Mental health is just as important to one’s overall well-being as one’s physical health, and our need for socialization and community shouldn’t be ignored.
Independent living doesn’t need to mean living alone; find your community and ensure that you remain connected and happy, regardless of what stage of life you’re in!