Loneliness, Are We Meeting Senior's Needs?

Loneliness… Are We Meeting the Needs of Our Seniors?

How do you know if a resident is suffering from feelings of isolation and loneliness?

Loneliness is like a poison and it’s affecting seniors more and more on a daily basis. In a rapidly growing technological society, caregivers have an added responsibility to safeguard residents from feeling isolated. This is because the negative effects of loneliness in seniors can cause a number of health-related issues.

These issues include depression, cognitive decline, dementia, high blood pressure, and many other conditions. Ultimately, the effects of loneliness can reduce longevity and hasten an earlier death. As a result, caregivers have the potential to change these negative pathways and help residents to not feel so isolated.

Causes and Effects Isolation And Loneliness In Seniors

How do you know if a resident is suffering from feelings of isolation and loneliness? There is no cookie-cutter answer to this question because different people have unique personalities. Social isolation isn’t always easy to recognize, let alone tackle. Some people are perfectly fine keeping to themselves. In fact, that’s what some individuals prefer.

Whether at work or around family, some people are quiet, unengaged, and much less involved. On the other hand, there are some people who once enjoyed social interactions with family and friends.

As they got older, those interactions shrank until they disappeared altogether. These individuals pose a greater concern. It is easy to assume that well-populated senior living communities minimize the risk of isolation. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.

More frequently than expected, previously social individuals sit in their rooms watching television. This social decline is a transition that happens for a variety of reasons. It could be as simple as a senior staying in their room to feel safe. As a result, social isolation increases.

An AARP Report Indicated 5 Primary Risk Factors Associated with Isolation:

  1. Living alone
  2. Mobility or sensory impairment
  3. Major life transitions
  4. Psychological or cognitive vulnerabilities
  5. Small social network and/or inadequate social support

Unfortunately, living in an assisted living home causes many residents to feel isolated away from their families back home. Quality assisted living homes should have mechanisms in place to protect seniors from the risks associated with isolation. Reports also indicate how ongoing social isolation is a detrimental crisis for the health of seniors.

Social Isolation Crisis Amongst Seniors

  • About 8 million people over the age of 50 suffer from isolation (AARP Report). 
  • Prolonged isolation can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (AARP Report).
  • Isolation can lead to a weakened immune system, heart disease, depression, and even dementia (Journal of Health and Social Behavior).

Residential assisted living homes are smaller environments with more intimate settings that allow caregivers to build strong relationships with residents. There are many unique ways to use different platforms to help engage residents with others.

Three Connectivity Platforms for Seniors

1. Connecting residents to each other: Allow residents to scrolls through a directory to learn more about those that live in neighboring rooms. Directory biographies will enable individuals to know if they have similar interests, backgrounds or hobbies. These directories also help newer residents make easier adjustments.

2. Connecting family members to the community: Digital services allow family members to get a glimpse into various activities taking place at the senior home. Some homes provide access to a customized app that allows family members to see that mom and dad are safe.

3. Connecting staff to residents: Caregivers should converse with residents on a routine basis throughout every shift and establish personal relationships. Through conversations and reading their detailed biographies, staff can master the values and interests of their residents and provide exceptional service.

Consequences of Senior Loneliness

Chronic stress and loneliness produce very similar consequences. They raise stress hormone levels in the body, impairing immune responses and causing inflammation, mental illness, and other conditions. Some studies show that factors that lead to heart diseases and diabetes can be related to senior loneliness.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association of Psychiatry, loneliness may be associated with the development of brain biomarkers associated with pre-Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, when seniors feel lonesome, they are more likely to conduct themselves in ways that cause others not to want to be around them.

In turn, research shows that they have a tendency to further isolate themselves. They push people away. Many of them don’t even initiate opportunities to engage with others. Loneliness is thought to be contagious because the few people lonely seniors interact with tend to become lonely as well. They follow similar paths to the outskirts of their social networks.

This poses serious implications on the health and social lives of caregivers and family members caring for their lonely loved ones.

Ways to Alleviate Loneliness in the Elderly

Family members and caregivers can rectify the situation. Most importantly, caregivers have to be intentional about making it happen. The following pointers are important steps to take to eliminate loneliness.

How Caregivers Can Help Fight Against Loneliness:

  • Listen and observe
  • Develop a strategy to defeat seclusion
  • Let them teach you
  • Bridge the generation gap
  • Ask Questions

Your success will take time and effort. In fact, your strategies and effort to connect may appear to backfire at first. Transitioning to an assisted living home can be a totally disorienting experience.

This process will require gentle encouragement to help new residents acclimate, meet new people and participate in activities and events. In addition to 24/7 care, residential assisted living provides an opportunity for socialization and fulfillment.

HOW THE RAL NATIONAL ASSOCIATION HELPS CAREGIVERS

Residential Assisted Living National Association is a rapidly growing membership-based organization supporting the assisted living industry. It is the largest RAL organization providing resources and support to caregivers and other key individuals in residential assisted living.

The good news is that RALNA is helping to transform caregivers into high-performing individuals that produce expected results. You really do make a difference.

In addition, your membership grants you access to group purchasing power, discounts with over 200 RAL vendors, contracted legal advocacy, industry marketing, educational services, memory care training, certifications, marketing, and relevant newsletters.

Visit www.RALNA.com for additional information. Be the first to learn need-to-know information and trending hot topics about providing quality care for seniors.

How do you know if a resident is suffering from feelings of isolation and loneliness?

If you found the information on this article valuable, you’ll find enormous benefits by becoming a member of our community. Visit this page to become a RALNA Member.