While older adults often equate independence with living in their own house, it can mean social isolation. Social isolation is the objective lack of social network and meaningful, supportive relationships. Feeling left out, isolated or experiencing limited companionship is a common challenge of aging (even for married couples). We counsel many older adults and their families about finding the right living situation that invests in a relationship-rich lifestyle to enable an experience of well-being.
High Risks of Isolation
A study conducted by the Canadian National Senior Council identified > 50% of those over the age of 80 reported feelings of loneliness. According to the National Institute on Aging, research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- a weakened immune system
- cognitive decline/Alzheimer’s disease
- even death
Conversely, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. These activities seem to help maintain their well-being and may improve their cognitive function, studies show.
The Meaning of Well-Being
Well-being is larger than the idea of quality of life or customer satisfaction, according to Dr. Bill Thomas, author of What are older people for? When families begin to explore senior living communities, often some sort of event triggered their interest.
Some may find that home ownership has become too much to manage. Others, motivated by a change in health, are looking for peace of mind or supportive services. Others may have recently lost a spouse. But one of the key benefits of living in a senior community that is sometimes overlooked is the value that social engagement plays in the quality of living.
Factors of Social Isolation
Many older adults don’t realize how socially separated they’ve become because they’ve given up certain activities over time. For example:
- One might give up choir practice because it is held in the evening, and they have troubles with night vision.
- Over time, they quit volunteering at the school because they’ve given up driving all together.
- Families may visit, but their schedules can easily conflict with a senior’s preference for activity during the day versus in the evening.
Senior Isolation: Investing in a Relationship-Rich Lifestyle
For those living at a senior community, participation in activities isn’t contingent on transportation — choir practice, card clubs or volunteer activities are held conveniently on-site. Older adults of the same generation have access to companionship and enjoy the camaraderie of those with like interests. Investing in the human connection is essential. Ageist discourse and the devaluing of elders has no place in senior communities.
We have many stories of older adults, who after moving into one of our communities actually became more independent and active. New friendships are forged. With a full calendar of engagements to choose from, they’ve become more than participants, they become actively involved. People find a culture of identity, worth, autonomy, meaning, connectedness and security.
Some older adults are able to take charge of their social lives and remain active long into their 80s or 90s regardless of where they live. But if you ask people like Sandee at our Oak Hill Terrace Senior Community who creates handmade cards for soldiers, or Peggy who runs the on-site convenience store at our Layton Terrace Senior Community, they would tell you that the Laureate Lifestyle has truly improved their quality of living.