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5 Ways Older Adults Can Combat Social Isolation

Anyone can live alone and not feel lonely. Being alone can be very liberating for older adults who might enjoy quiet time and the independence to do what they want when they want it. Loneliness comes when this is not the case and when someone is sad, distressed, or stressed when they’re alone. Loneliness can be a result of life’s transitions – retirement, downsizing, financial stresses, health issues, divorce, increasing illnesses, the loss of family and friends can all bring on feelings of loneliness. Social isolation – a lack of social contacts and having few people to interact with regularly – compounds feelings of loneliness and can be a risk to people’s health. Older adults are at higher risk for social isolation and loneliness due to changes in health and social connections that can come with aging.

Social isolation and loneliness have a serious impact on older people’s longevity, their physical and mental health, and their quality of life. According to the World Health Organization, social isolation and loneliness are important, but often neglected, social determinants of health across all ages, including older people. The effect of social isolation and loneliness on mortality has been compared to that of other well-established risk factors. One Brigham Young University study suggests loneliness is as deadly as smoking or obesity, while researchers at the University of Chicago note blood pressure and stress levels are significantly higher in lonely people.

So how can older adults and those that care about them combat social isolation? Aging care experts at JFS Rochester offer a few suggestions:

  • Seek Out Meaningful Connections. Without built in social networks like school or work, it can be hard for older adults to find meaningful connections. However, many communities have formal and informal networks of people of all ages that want to build relationships with them. These programs are designed to provide ongoing connections and support for older adults, helping them avoid the damaging effects of isolation and play an active role in their community. In Rochester, The Friendly Connections  program matches older adults with volunteers who provide regular check-ins, offer comfort and companionship, and engage in meaningful conversations. Whether it’s a weekly phone call or video visit, volunteers help seniors stay connected with the world around them, build new friendships, and feel supported in their daily lives. Other programs include Senior Planet and The Virtual Community Center, both from AARP.
  • Volunteer. While social isolation can be detrimental to health, research suggests volunteering can have the opposite effect. Being a volunteer can help reduce your risk of anxiety and depression and has been shown to increase volunteers’ happiness. Volunteering has been linked with helping individuals live longer, may help reduce blood pressure, increase activity levels, and help reduce stress.
  • Build Relationships with Peers. High-quality social connections are essential to our mental and physical health and our well-being. As our population continues to age, the traditional models of senior care and retirement living need to be reimagined to include more intergenerational programming, social programming reflective of their interests, and integrated into the larger community where it is located. In response to this, neighborhood-based models are emerging that support the concept of “aging in community.” This approach recognizes that seniors are more than just individuals in need of care but are active members of their communities with valuable skills, knowledge, and social connections. By tapping into these assets, neighborhood-based models can create a support system for older adults and help prevent isolation. Read more about this model and the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) right here in Rochester. 
  • Attend to Your Mental Health. Counseling services tailored specifically to the unique needs of older adults and their families are a critical tool in combatting social isolation. Mental health services provide an outlet for interaction and can help identify ways that individuals can make connections based on their unique situation. At JFS Rochester, we understand that the mental health challenges that come with aging affect both the older adults themselves and their caregivers, who may be adult children or grandchildren. Our licensed therapists provide a range of services, from individual counseling to support groups, to help older adults and their caregivers navigate the complex emotional, social, and medical issues that can arise as they age.
  • Tap Into Technological Resources. Virtual Senior Centers can connect seniors with new friends and resources in our community and beyond. Through programs like these, including JFS Connects, older adults can participate in a wide range of virtual activities and events, including fitness classes, educational workshops, and social gatherings. By leveraging technology, JFS Connects helps older adults stay engaged, active, and connected, regardless of their physical abilities or location.

JFS Rochester understands the unique needs and opportunities of older adults, and we are committed to providing high-quality aging services that meet those needs. Our Aging Care Management Program provides older adults with comprehensive care management services to help them navigate the aging journey. We work alongside JFS clients and their families to develop a plan of care that ensures opportunities for self-sufficiency, support, and dignity through healthcare, mental health services, nursing, transportation, and safety supports. Our care managers provide excellent service delivery and care coordination that maintains dignity and achieves the goals of the older adults we serve.

For more information about care management services, please contact Dee Schwartz at dschwartz@jfsrochester.org or call (585) 506-3072.

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