Social isolation, a state in which people lack engagement with others, have a minimal number of social connections that are enriching and provide an outlet for forming quality relationships. A major health problem on the rise for all ages, but particularly older people living in the community, contributing to a number of fatal health conditions.
Whilst loneliness and social isolation is not something that comes about just at Christmas time, feelings of loneliness can be exacerbated with the true impact more apparent over the festive season.
Whether it be as a result of expectations or seeing others making plans with friends and family, comparing it to previous times where Christmas was a time for laughter and love. Or perhaps older people are mourning the loss of a loved one. The thought that 224,000 older Australians are already living in social isolation all year round and of-course at Christmas time is huge cause for concern. The effects of loneliness can be devastating. With recent scientific research data confirming that effects of loneliness can increase the chance of premature death at all ages.If greater attention is not placed on this urgent issue then it is anticipated that by 2030 this will increase to nearly 400,000 people.
At fear of being pitied or feeling a burden older people often put on a brave face and often don’t like to talk about their feelings of loneliness. We previously having reported on a lady that would shred paper with her fingers to help the day go by. Other stories of people leaving the radio on in various rooms so that voices would feel like she had company. No matter what your age, being loved and having someone to care for you is important to us all!
Video caption:The Christmas ad for German supermarket EDEKA has gone viral on the internet. A very confronting and emotionally charged Christmas ad to hit social media.
The latest research into social isolation
The loneliness epidemic- as it has been labelled by the latest research which suggests loneliness is more dangerous than the obesity epidemic.This particular study taking over thirty plus years to complete, has shown similarities to research on obesity three decades ago. With both the social trends and levels of risk suggestive of an even greater risk in the future. People living alone are at the highest recorded rate across this entire century, despite the advances in technology with the internet and social media- this alone is not enough to keep people connected and apart of the community.
The brain’s danger signals are activated as a result of loneliness, triggering biological changes that can be detrimental.
Well at least according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal, that this biological triggers can make people sick with chronic disease. White blood cells were found to be disrupted due to the “fight or flight” response. This gene responsible for defending the body from illness and inflammation is also believed to be the same for loneliness. People that were found to be lonely had a less effective immune response compared to those that were low risk for loneliness.
Video Caption: John Lewis a UK retailer, known for tearjerking ads- shows a story of an old man living by himself on the moon. One for us all to consider.
What can older people do to avoid feeling lonely?
Stay connected or reconnect with friends and family – stay in contact with friends or your social groups. If you don’t have many then consider joining social groups in the local community.
Seek Support – if social isolation and loneliness is causing you distress then speak to your GP about your concerns, a trusted person or see a counsellor.
Lend a hand – Help our out your local charity, by helping others and meeting new people it will give you a sense of purpose, and a way for you to start feeling loved, needed, and purposeful.
What can the community do to support older people from feeling lonely?
Volunteer – become a community visit, support older people and prevent social isolation. The government funded Community Visitors Scheme seeks volunteers who can commit to building a friendship with an older person living in their own home or nursing home that are at risk of being lonely.
What can health professionals support older people?
Risk screening – if social isolation is detected early, future morbidity and mortality could be avoided through prevention and mitigation efforts. However, social isolation is not routinely assessed in primary care settings, and therefore often goes undetected. If you identify someone at risk refer them to the local community centre with their permission for social support or alternative find out what Community Visitors Scheme can offer in their area.
Aged Care Report Card is looking at ways in which we can support older people, this includes feeling lonely. We are always interested in hearing any ideas our community may have and also if you are interested in helping out.
If you have a story about how you have helped older people at Christmas and throughout the year please share it with us- we would love to hear about it.