Social isolation isn’t just a mental health issue for older adults; it’s deeply connected to physical health, even mortality. Unhappily, it’s also a growing trend.
It was easy to love the Golden Girls. Snarky, sarcastic Dorothy, Blanche the Southern belle, oblivious Rose and the matriarch of the group, Sophia… But perhaps the most delightful part of the show was the solid friendship they had, despite the quips and zings.
Fans mourned when the show stopped airing in 1992 and nothing since has showcased the ups and downs of aging in quite the same way.
Living together wasn’t just a way to share resources, it helped keep isolation at bay, too—something that’s a growing concern and issue in the United States among the growing senior population.
“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to well-being and survival. Extreme examples show infants who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University in a Science Daily article that documents the 2017 findings. “Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”
Even more than loneliness and the resulting depression it can trigger, isolation can actually bump up the risk of mortality, perhaps because of the missing network of support and encouragement that social connections provide. Friends and families are more likely to push for medical attention and notice small changes in a loved one.
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Social isolation—or lacking social connection—and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely, respectively increasing mortality risk by a shocking 29 and 32 percent.
Four Resources to Help Reduce Isolation Among Older Adults
Not everyone has a group of friends quite as tightly knit as the Golden Girls, but taking steps to ensure isolation doesn’t impact your health negatively is clearly an important part of successful aging. These four resources can help.
- To learn if isolation is affecting you or someone you love, AARP offers a valuable self-assessment tool and website that might be useful. Visit Connect2Affect.org to learn more.
- Sun Health Foundation offers volunteer opportunities throughout the year and welcomes new volunteers. It’s a wonderful way to meet others while helping the community. Click here to learn more.
- Benevilla is a wonderful West Valley resource connecting older adults with enrichment programs, caregiver support and more. Visit their website here to learn more about available resources.
- Because it’s based on a model of health and wellness, and helping its members remain independent, a continuing care at home membership can help members remain engaged socially, preventing isolation. A wide variety of activities, services and other resources are typically included, such as companion services, a health risk assessment, exercise classes, a nutrition review, transportation coordination and a robust calendar of social events. Designed as a replacement or complement to long-term care, it also pays for any assisted living, memory care or skilled care support that may be needed in the future. Learn more here, or join us for a free, no-obligation discovery seminar!
Sun Health at Home is the first CCaH program in the southwestern United States, and the only one available in Arizona.
(Originally published Jan. 3, 2018; last updated Jan. 11, 2019.)