For older adults, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation is a problem. Older people, in general, are more commonly impacted by social isolation and reduced social contacts as mobility becomes more difficult, social networks shrink, and social support from family members becomes less frequent. This can greatly tax the mental health of the elderly and reduce their quality of life substantially. As humans, we are social beings that need social relationships. For older individuals suffering from a reduced quality of life due to social isolation, there are a number of ways to increase connectivity and improve well-being – this includes establishing a care system that includes social support, and incorporating loved ones, social interaction, and new social connections into the health promotion of the elderly. Access to community programs can help form new social connections which can ultimately help to reduce feelings of loneliness.
Impacts of Social Isolation
Social isolation can cause feelings of loneliness, but also may have other impacts on health issues and health outcomes. Lonely people typically suffer from poor health – in the Journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, it was found in a meta-analysis that a lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder. Loneliness and social isolation were found to be twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity as well. Elderly people may feel a sense of depression due to loneliness, and their quality of life and health conditions may worsen.
What Can We Do?
For the elderly who are feeling socially isolated, there are things that loved ones and family members can do including encouraging social participation and activity in community activities, scheduling regular visitations, and more. In the times of COVID-19, this can be more difficult as in-person get togethers pose new risks, and support networks are often intentionally isolating and avoiding get togethers and social events. It is therefore important to help the elderly find new ways to maintain social contacts, but also enable them to improve their mental health outcomes in these difficult times. Remote teletherapy, such as that offered by the Granato Group, can be a critical part of the health care for older people.