Fall River Jewish Home

The Importance of Keeping Massachusetts Seniors Socially Engaged

As we are finally putting a very long and hard Massachusetts winter behind us, one related topic that is attracting attention is the issue of loneliness and isolation as a health risk for seniors. If we stop to consider how blue some of us felt when the snow kept us prisoner in our own homes many days this winter, it is easier to relate to how seniors with physical impairments and mobility problems must feel every day. But can extreme loneliness and isolation lead to a shorter life? Two research trials say it can.

University of Chicago & The Science of Resilient Aging

One study was presented by University of Chicago psychology professor, John Cacioppo at the Science of Resilient Aging conference in February. He proposed that social isolation can decrease an older adult’s lifespan by as much as 19%.

Professor Cacioppo’s research seemed to uncover a dramatic difference in the physical and mental health of older adults who are socially engaged and those who are isolated and lonely.

His study showed that the body’s immune system becomes compromised when a person is isolated and alone. They develop problems sleeping, increased blood pressure, higher rates of depression, and exhibit greater levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. It all adds up to a shorter life.

Cacioppo believes the real outcome of this project is to show how important staying engaged with others is to helping people maintain resiliency as they age. That is what gives them the mental and physical fortitude to bounce back after an illness or injury in later life.

The University College of London

Researchers in London tackled a similar project. A study led by epidemiologist Andrew Steptoe of University College London revealed an even stronger relationship between social engagement and longer life. Steptoe’s group assessed 6,500 men and women aged 52 years and over for loneliness and for social isolation. In this study, social isolation was measured by the amount of contact participants had with family and friends, as well as by their involvement with their surrounding community. What they discovered was that the most socially isolated participants had a 26% greater risk of dying. Loneliness is an issue they believed needs to be addressed, but it is social isolation that leads to a shorter life.

Keeping Older Adults Socially Engaged

For Massachusetts caregivers of a senior loved one those statistics can be of real concern, especially if you are a long distance caregiver. What can you do to keep your aging parent or family member active and engaged? Here are a few tips to help:

  • Try to determine the barriers that keep them from participating in community organizations or getting together with friends. Is it transportation? Are they in need of financial support? Do they have mobility challenges or vision and hearing impairments? These are some of the most common reasons an older adult becomes isolated. Once you know what the issue is, you can work with the Area Agency on Aging and your extended family to find a solution. They might recommend weekly visits to a senior center that offers low-cost lunches and transportation or a day program at a local assisted living community.
  • If they belong to a synagogue, church or other religious organization, talk with that group to see what support they can lend to your senior loved one. They might be able to arrange transportation to and from services or set them up with a friendly visitor on a weekly basis.
  • Take advantage of technology to keep in touch. Skype and other video chat services make it easier to have “face-to-face” conversations with your loved one at least once a day. The same goes for interactions with grandchildren. Encourage your kids to video chat with an aging loved one a few times a week. It could be to read a book “together” or share what they learned in dance class on one of these great video platforms.

We’re here to answer questions and help you make the best decision for care for you or your loved one. We invite you to reach out and talk with one of our care specialists at Fall River Jewish Home today! CALL 1.508.679.6172, where assistance is just a phone call away.

Content on this page is provided by a third party who may inadvertently publish inaccurate or incomplete information. Please contact us with any questions regarding the contact on this page.