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The Impact of Isolation on the Elderly

The Impact of Isolation on the Elderly

Key Summary

Isolation has a huge impact on the elderly. Explore the causes of isolation, mental and physical health effects of isolation, and ways to combat loneliness.

Over the last few years, hundreds of millions of people around the world have been isolated for long stretches of time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For senior citizens in particular, isolation can have some serious consequences – and the pandemic magnified those problems in ways we’d never seen in our lifetimes.

Even after we’d emerged from the worst of the pandemic and most people have returned to something resembling a normal amount of social interaction, the elderly are the ones most at risk of feeling isolated and alone, due to a variety of factors. Today we’re going to look at the impact of isolation on the elderly, which includes statistics regarding social isolation, causes of isolation. mental and physical health effects of social isolation, and ways to combat the effects of isolation and loneliness.

Social Isolation Elderly Statistics

Studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness are issues for at least one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older, which is the largest age category at risk of serious health conditions linked to these traits. This is because seniors are often retired, which means they no longer have the same interactions during the week with co-workers, and they may have limited interaction with children who are grown. Additionally, seniors may not be out and about in social situations as much as they were in the past.

Unfortunately, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also show that:

  • Those who suffer from social isolation are approximately 50% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
  • Social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of heart disease by 29% and the risk of stroke by 32%.
  • Loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Causes of Isolation in the Elderly

Isolation and loneliness can impact anyone, and it’s important to note that there are usually very simple causes that can result in significant damage. They usually include sudden life changes, such as:

  • Living alone
  • The loss of a partner
  • Loss of mobility and/or the ability to complete activities of daily living (ADLs)
  • Minimal connection with family and friends
  • Loss of purpose or drive (work, hobbies, activities, etc.)

Health Effects of Social Isolation

When isolation occurs, associated health risks can begin to appear among individuals age 50 and older.

Health effects of social isolation include the following.

Depression, Substance Abuse, Anxiety

Those who feel isolated from the world often turn to self-medication to ease their pain, which can lead to further depression and substance abuse. Social isolation often increases feelings of anxiety and can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Heart Disease and Stroke

Studies have shown that a lack of social relationships can lead to an increased likelihood of heart disease and stroke, greater chances of hospitalization, and more visits to the emergency room.


As mentioned, social isolation can lead to an increased chance of dementia. Without a support system of family, friends, neighbors, social organizations, etc., loneliness can become an unwanted constant “companion” of sorts—and there’s not a study in the world that shows this to be a good thing for one’s mental health and state of mind.

Increased Chance of Premature Death

CDC research indicates social isolation significantly increases one’s risk of premature death on a level that is similar to obesity, lack of physical activity, and smoking.

Decline in Quality of Life

The impact of isolation on the elderly can often result in one or more of the following repercussions:

  • A loss of interest in activities and hobbies they once enjoyed.
  • Loss of weight and a lack of interest in cooking and eating.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • “Letting themselves go,” i.e., not showering or bathing as much, paying less attention to grooming and dressing, etc.
  • Missing regular obligations and appointments, e.g., paying bills or going to religious services or running necessary errands.
  • Reduced interest in holidays, family birthdays, and special occasions.
  • Skipping and forgetting medications.
  • Doing a poor job of returning phone calls, letters, emails, while distancing themselves from friends and family.

Elderly Loneliness Solutions

When loneliness occurs and a better quality of life needs to be restored, there are a number of ways you or your loved one can combat social isolation:

Set up an Appointment with Your Doctor

If you’re beginning to feel isolated and lonely, make an appointment with your primary physician to talk about ways to address the situation.

Help Others

One great way to “get out of your head” and feel connected with a community again is to volunteer for a charity or otherwise get involved in activities that benefit others. Helping someone else in need can give you a sense of pride and purpose, and make them feel cared for too.

Invite Friends and Family to Visit

Be proactive about seeing your family and friends. If you’re not reaching out on your own to show you care, you can’t really complain if no one reaches out to you, right? Everyone has busy lives; sometimes it just takes a little effort to make sure you don’t lose touch with your loved ones and friends. If you do start to lose touch, it’s ok! Don’t be afraid to call them just because you haven’t spoken in a while – your effort might make their day. Don’t forget, new friends are a great option too - there are always more people who share similar interests - it just takes getting involved, which we’ll discuss below.

Embrace Technology

Even if you’ve always considered yourself a “luddite” when it comes to technology, it’s never too late to learn. You might just find that an app or a digital resource is easier to use than your current method. Reach out to a younger friend or family member and ask for help in learning how to surf the Internet, play games, download an interactive app or send e-mail. You can also take a computer class or a technical class around a topic you enjoy such as woodworking, photography, drawing or design. There are many benefits of technology and digital care companions. In a number of ways, technology can open a whole new world, and people of all ages have made lasting and beneficial connections with others through the miracle of modern communication.

Get Involved in Local Community Activities

One of the greatest ways to make new friendships or strengthen existing ones is through community activities. Whether you’re interested in gardening, reading, playing cards, board games, music, movies, you name it, odds are there are clubs and organizations in your area dedicated to these pursuits. Join a group! Even if you attend only once in a while, it’s a great way to shake off feelings of loneliness.

Group activities like games are a great way to interact and are also excellent for those with memory challenges. Learn how you can help a loved one stay sharper by reading our next article “Best Memory Games for Seniors.

Keep a Diary

Get a good old-fashioned notebook and keep a daily or even weekly diary about your activities, your appointments, important dates and scheduled plans. It’s a great way to keep looking forward to activities that will keep you engaged and involved.

Document Your Family History

Make the most of your beloved memories by documenting your family history. You’ll spend hours fondly going through photographs, labeling them, and writing down the stories of your life. It’s a pastime that creates something precious, to be cherished by you and other family members. Not sure where to start? There are plenty of books to help you begin – including some where you can just fill in the blanks.

Find Senior Living Near You

The impact of isolation on the elderly is mentally, emotionally, and physically detrimental. Everyone wants friends and to feel fulfilled in their relationships. Senior living communities help combat loneliness and provide support and care whenever necessary. Talk with Referah’s Family Connection Agents today to discuss your needs or those of a loved one. From Independent Living to Assisted Living and Memory Care, there are wonderful communities near you. Find your new home, today!

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