Senior Loneliness and young person loneliness pervasive and worsening, how health care can help

Senior loneliness, loneliness in general, or lacking in meaningful social interactions, may cause premature death at the same rate as being a chain smoker of cigarettes. 

A key finding in a recent  U.S. Attorney General report entitled Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation, is that senior loneliness or lack of meaningful social interactions may be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes daily.

The report also identifies loneliness and isolation as a higher risk of stroke, heart disease, anxiety, depression and dementia when someone lacks social connections. 

caregiver holds hand to help with senior loneliness
Woman holding senior woman’s hand on bed

There is also a financial cost of senior loneliness and social isolation among older adults, including an estimated $6.7 billion in excess Medicare spending annually on senior loneliness which is paid by the government for extra services at hospitals and nursing facilities which may be avoidable if senior loneliness was addressed earlier in the community setting.

Another key takeaway from the report is approximately half of U.S. adults report experiencing senior loneliness, middle aged loneliness or younger loneliness, with some of the highest rates among young adults.

Our number of friends, and quality time spent with those friends, is declining, for younger people and for those older than 60, leading to more senior loneliness. The COVID-19 pandemic made senior loneliness especially acute, as seniors had to isolate and couldn’t interact with family and friends if they lived in assisted living, memory care or nursing facilities.

woman engages with elderly woman in wheelchair to help with senior lonliness.
Assistance to elderly people

Being social on social media doesn’t help senior loneliness or young person loneliness. Studies show that people who spend more than 2 hours daily on social media feel more isolated than those who spend about 30 minutes a day. 

The report recommends six pillars to improve social connection in the U.S., one which involves getting the healthcare sector to recognize and screen for loneliness as a public health issue.  Nurses who visit home health patients should ask about senior loneliness, what community activities a senior is enjoying and how to reconnect a senior with loneliness into more social situations.

Poor health, cognitive impairment and trying to mask diminished memory may cause senior loneliness, as people with early onset of dementia may feel fear or shame at the condition and may stop interacting with others rather than expose the health conditions leading to their senior loneliness.

Senior sitting in wheelchair in skilled nursing center, experiencing senior lonliness.
Senior woman in a wheelchair alone in a room

One aspect of health care that may help to reduce senior loneliness is to engage a professional care manager to evaluate a person’s needs, strength, wants and goals and to create a client centered plan to enhance quality of life. Member of the Aging Life Care Association recognize senior loneliness as a threat to health, safety and comfort and work on strategies to engage seniors within their limits and comfort levels.

Hiring in home care is also an option for senior loneliness. A screened, trained professional caregiver from At Home Nursing Care can assist with incidental activities of daily living such as transportation, errands, meal planning, social outings, trips to church, senior centers, activities, movies, shows, plays, dinners at restaurants and more. Some clients even hire caregivers to help out of town seniors visit family members, attend high school events for grandchildren or other fun activities such as bridal or baby showers.

Professional caregiver works with senior during COVID-19, a challenging time for senior loneliness.
Senior Loneliness as a Public Health Epidemic 6

One area where we’ve seen senior loneliness helped is hiring a caregiver to assist a senior to attend a wedding, taking any burden off other family and ensuring that a senior with mobility issues such as the use of a cane, walker or wheelchair, gets to enjoy the fun event.

Chrissy Beane, Care Manager Certified for At Home Nursing Care, is experienced helping with senior loneliness.
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If you are concerned that an older relative or friend is experiencing loneliness, consider engaging a care manager to evaluate the situation, create a client-centered plan to address the concerns, and fill your loved one’s days with meaningful activities and connections with other. At Home Nursing Care is a leading provider of care management services.

To learn more about care management, click here.