The United States is experiencing an epidemic of loneliness and isolation, and seniors are particularly vulnerable. Loneliness in senior housing facilities can have a significant impact on both mental and physical health, but residential care facilities can take steps to help residents overcome loneliness.
The U.S. Surgeon General recently issued an advisory on the nation’s epidemic of loneliness and isolation. The advisory warns that a lack of social connection can impact individuals, communities, and society, and social isolation among older adults results in an estimated $6.7 billion in excess Medicare spending every year.
If you’re wondering how social isolation can result in billions of dollars of extra healthcare spending, the CDC says loneliness and social isolation can put older people at risk for dementia and other serious medical issues. Research has found that social isolation is associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia, while poor social relationships are associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Furthermore, loneliness is associated with elevated rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
Seniors may experience social isolation as they retire from work and leave the coworkers and social network that comes with most jobs. Adult children often move away, and spouses and other loved ones may pass. Then, when seniors move into senior care facilities, they leave their old home, and that often involves leaving behind some close friends and neighbors. Physical health and mobility issues may also make it more difficult for them to engage in the activities they once enjoyed.
All of this can contribute to social isolation in senior living facilities. According to research published in the National Library of Medicine, 19% to 29% of community-dwelling older adults are lonely.
For leaders at senior living organizations, this is a problem as well as an opportunity. By helping your residents overcome loneliness, you can support better health while also making your facility a more joyous place that attracts workers, residents and families.
It’s counter-intuitive that seniors often experience loneliness and social isolation while residing in senior communities. By their very nature, communities are supposed to be characterized by social interaction. However, in many cases, seniors still become isolated even when they are surrounded by great people. Recognizing this, educating your team, and intentionally addressing the potential for loneliness with both residents and their family members is the first step toward reducing potential feelings of isolation at your facility.
Most senior care facilities already organize activities that encourage social interaction. The challenge is that shy, lonely or depressed residents may choose not to attend planned events. Consider how to make events accessible to all, accounting for different preferences and physical abilities. Ask about residents’ interests when they first move in and personally invite them to attend activities that match their interests. A personal invitation from a “buddy” may also inspire the attendance of a resident who wouldn’t come otherwise. Here are a few ideas:
In addition to trying to increase social connections within your senior living community, also think about ways you can increase connections with the surrounding community.
Sometimes it just isn’t possible for seniors to connect with their friends and family in person. This may be due to health problems, or it may be because their loved ones live far away. Either way, technology can help.
By combating loneliness in senior housing communities, you can support better health. It’s just one aspect of risk management for senior living facilities. Tangram provides insurance for adult residential care facilities through the Personal Care & Assisted Living Insurance Center (PCALIC). Learn more.
Article provided by Tangram Insurance Services.