Seniors often struggle with loneliness. This blog post discusses the affects loneliness has on health and how technology can enable seniors to live more socially connected lives.
A challenge often associated with aging is a shrinking social network that can lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness. Feelings of loneliness can affect not only one’s mental health but can strongly impact physical heath as well. Although technology is not a panacea for this problem it can be part of the solution. Through the use of communication technologies seniors can live more connected lives thereby improving their mental and physical well-being.
Seniors who define themselves as lonely have a 59 percent greater risk of functional decline and a 45 percent greater risk of death according to a University of California San Francisco study.
Carla Perissinotto, MD, MHS, assistant professor at UCSF Division of Geriatrics and first author of the UCSF study says “it’s intriguing to find that loneliness is independently associated with an increased rate of death and functional decline.” She also expresses the importance of addressing someone’s loneliness to help avoid some functional decline.
Because loneliness has such a strong impact on well-being it is important to understand its symptoms and signs. According to Which? Elderly Care here are some things to look for:
- Verbal clues – when asked, seniors will often not articulate their feelings of loneliness in a forthright manner. It’s important to “read between the lines.”
- Look for behavioral changes – if they seem withdrawn or do not engage with other people they might be suffering from loneliness. However, for others talking non-stop and seeking additional physical contacts are signs.
- Health issues that are unexplained – they may complain about a made-up illness to receive additional attention.
- Becoming friends with questionable people – unfortunately seniors are often taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. If your relative or friend has become friends with someone that you feel may be dishonest, speak to them about it.
Although technology is not a silver bullet for senior isolation, it can be part of the solution. For some people, technology can help alleviate symptoms that lead to loneliness. That is why Mike MacLeod, President of Status Solutions, developed the CATIE (Communication and Access To Information Everywhere) solution for independent and assisted living facilities. He first had the idea for this system when his mother was unable to view photos of her granddaughter’s adventures in Europe. The CATIE solution is an always on in-room kiosk that has a straightforward and easy to use interface designed specifically for seniors. This system allows seniors to view and share photos with family and friends, receive and make voice calls, create or respond to emails using voice response, access daily activity schedules, access photo directories for all the residents in a particular facility, and much more. The CATIE solution offers simple and direct ways for seniors to interact in socially meaningful ways. In the words of Mike MacLeod,
“It’s not about technology, it’s about outcome. It’s about the outcomes that make people’s lives more enriching, safer and ultimately just more worth living.”
As research shows, loneliness has significant negative impacts on the health and well-being of seniors. Social isolation and loneliness is strongly correlated with serious health risks and cognitive decline. Therefore, it becomes imperative to understand the signs and symptoms of loneliness and to address its underlying causes. While technology is not and will never be the sole answer to this problem, technologies like CATIE can be one component of the solution.
To learn more about how Status Solutions is working to enrich the lives of seniors watch this video.
Kim, Leland. (June 18, 2012). Loneliness Linked to Serious Health Problems and Death among Elderly [Article]. Retrieved from https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/06/12184/loneliness-linked-serious-health-problems-and-death-among-elderly
Which? Elderly Care. Tackling Loneliness – Causes of loneliness in older people. Retrieved from http://www.which.co.uk/elderly-care/your-relatives-needs/tackling-loneliness/386429-causes-of-loneliness-in-older-peopleNational Association of Area Agencies on Aging. (November 18, 2016) Elder Care Locator. Expand Your Circles, Prevent Isolation and Loneliness As You Age [Fact & Tip Sheets].Retrieved from http://nutritionandaging.org/expand-your-circles-prevent-isolation-and-loneliness-as-you-age/