by Joyce Kopcik
Do you know anyone who is socially isolated?
Do you know anyone who lives alone and has become less involved with activities outside the home?
Do you know anyone who lives alone or in a remote area and has lost interest in daily activities?
What is social isolation and why should we talk about it?
Social isolation is a lack of contact between an individual and the rest of society. About ¼ of people 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated, and this puts them at risk for premature death and also increases the risk of dementia by 50%.
What are the causes and symptoms of social isolation?
The pandemic has forced many of us to be more isolated from others, and it has increased the impact of the normal causes of social isolation. Some of these causes are:
- Living alone
- Being house-bound
- Having a major life change
- Being a caregiver
- Living in a rural or hard-to-reach neighborhood
- Having hearing difficulties
- Lack of interest in daily activities
- Social withdrawal
- Poor eating and hygiene
- Difficulty sleeping
What are the effects on health?
The impact of social isolation can be as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder; and when combined with loneliness, it can be twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity. A socially isolated person may lack friends and feel lonely and depressed, avoiding social interactions and frequently cancelling plans. Poor social relationships cause a significant increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
What can you do to help protect yourself from the effects of social isolation?
There are many small steps you can take such as exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and finding activities that help to relieve stress. Many people find that volunteering gives a boost to well-being, both in developing new relationships and helping others. Joining classes or clubs may bring you close to others with similar interests. Stay in contact with family and friends in person, or by phone, email or social media.
If social isolation continues to impact your life, have a frank discussion with your doctor about how you feel and any major changes or stresses in your life. This will help them to provide valuable resources and better treat your overall health.
What can you do for a loved one who is socially isolated?
Little things can make a big difference for a loved one dealing with social isolation. Some things that you might consider are spending some time with them each day, helping them rekindle their interests, or dropping by with a dessert, book or other small gift. If you can not visit, phone calls or Zoom can be very helpful in keeping in touch. The most important thing is encouraging your loved one to take positive steps and seek professional help, if needed.
How can the Beacon of Hope help?
The Beacon of Hope has a counselor available to help you through difficult times; Beacon Bites delivers meals to the elderly and disabled and checks on those who receive this service; and volunteer opportunities are always available. Please call 239-283-5123 for information.
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