Technology Can Help Seniors Battle Loneliness Now, More Than Ever
Feelings of isolation are common, but there are ways to feel more connected
In a time when nearly everyone is experiencing some feelings of loneliness and isolation, it’s important to remember that these feelings can be amplified among the older members of society. As we age, the deaths of friends and family members, declines in health and the loss of independence that can result can make people feel even more cut off than they would under ordinary circumstances
However, loneliness and isolation work differently for many, with those who live somewhat isolated lives not necessarily experiencing feelings of loneliness. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13.8 percent of older adults live alone but don’t describe themselves as lonely or socially isolated. Meanwhile, those surrounded by others still sometimes describe feelings of loneliness because of a lack of meaningful connections.
According to a report by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, there are number of health concerns linked to social isolation and loneliness. They include obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, a weakened immune system, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and, sometimes, death. Often, these issues arise among those who find themselves alone without warning after the death of spouse or partner, retirement, loss of mobility, separation from friends or family, or a lack of transportation.
In contrast, the NIH reports that those who engage with others through meaningful activities tend to show elevated moods, longer lifespans and an increased sense of productivity and cognitive function.
Technology is helping all of us connect better. Among those seniors who aren’t able visit or receive family or friends, the increased availability of tablets and computers that allow access to applications like Facetime, Zoom and Skype makes seeing friends and family face-to-face relatively simple. Recently, houses of worship have begun ramping up their livestreamed services and study sessions, and group meetings with online support groups are easily arranged through online services like Zoom.
But not everything that can combat loneliness and isolation depends on technology. Some of the easiest ways for seniors to combat isolation and loneliness are to try to enjoy the things they would normally—especially if they’re outdoors. Gardening, meditation, exercise and interacting with a pet are easy ways for everyone to feel more engaged. Volunteering or working for a social cause toward a common goal can also help seniors feel more connected.
According to a 2018 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, between 19 and 29 percent of seniors living in retirement communities experience loneliness. As a result, retirement and long-term care communities work hard to combat loneliness and social isolation among their residents.
At Lodge Lane Assisted Living and Memory Care in Wilmington, residents can communicate with friends and family living outside the community via Zoom and Skype calls made over donated iPads and Amazon Kindles. The devices also allow residents to remotely participate in community events like bingo games.
Lodge Lane has also been using the tablets to stream lectures and concerts prepared especially for the residents. In addition, residents can use the tablets to communicate with each other, an idea proposed by a resident who is also a former psychologist.
Resident events have included theme days, where residents are invited to decorate their doors around themes that have included things like Hawaii and Disney. The dining menus, music and other events are also coordinated around each theme.
To enjoy nature, residents can garden in the community’s raised vegetable or flower beds. There’s ample opportunity to get out in the fresh air because the entire community has large walking paths with park benches along the way.
Meanwhile, exercise, music, travel and opportunities for an active faith life are all part of living at Lodge Lane.