Social isolation is an increasingly prevalent problem in Australia today. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates that one-quarter of people over the age of 65 live alone. This figure is expected to rise by at least 52 per cent by 2021.
Living alone can leave older Australians vulnerable. A recent report on the effects of social isolation by The Council on the Ageing (COTA) found that chronic loneliness can create a persistent self-reinforcing loop of negative thoughts, sensations and behaviours that can have a serious impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing.
A review of how social isolation can affect our physical health was carried out by The Journal of Primary Prevention in 2012. The review found social isolation to be associated with increased risk factors for stroke, heart disease, dementia, falls and chronic mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Those that are socially isolated were also found to be four to five times more likely to require hospitalisation.
On the other hand, studies show that people who are socially active as they age have better psychological and physical health and increased quality of life.
A review of 148 different studies shows that people who have strong social relationships have a 50 per cent better chance of surviving chronic health conditions than people with little or no social interaction.
Counsellor and psychotherapist, Dr Karen Phillip, says interacting with others is an innate human need that can help older people stay healthier and live for longer in their own homes.
“We are social creatures. We are designed to connect with others, to share our feelings and opinions. Social interaction stimulates our brains, it gives us the opportunity to stay mentally active because we’re using our brains and to stay physically active because it forces us to get out and do things and remain independent,” says Phillip.
Here Dr Phillip shares her top tips to staying socially engaged and making full use of the powerful psychological and physiological benefits that being socially active bestows.
Five ways to invigorate your social life as you get older
Tip 1: Connect with social media
Learning how to use social media can open up a world of social possibilities where we can connect with people who share our views, opinions and feelings, says Phillip.
“Older people who use social media have improved brain function and better physical and emotional outcomes,” she says. Phillip recommends asking a carer or a family member to show you how to use Skype, Facebook or Instagram to connect with the world around you from the safety and privacy of your own home.
Tip 2: Volunteer and share your knowledge or experience
As an ‘elder of the tribe’, you have a wealth of knowledge and experience that you can share by connecting with your local community. “Chances are you have a skill, trade, or knowledge and can offer advice or undertake other helpful activities that will prove invaluable to your community,” says Phillip.
Tip 3: Join a seniors group
No matter whether you’re into sport, religion or have a hobby, there is bound to be a senior citizen’s group that would consider itself very lucky to have you as an active member, says Phillip.
Staying in touch with friends is important as we age
Tip 4: See a psychotherapist
The right psychotherapist can be your emotional rock, but also a practical help too, says Phillip. “Not only will they work you through the issue of loneliness, they can also become your case worker helping you connect with senior citizen’s groups and community groups and helping you connect with your family or a doctor,” says Phillip.
Tip 5: Connect face to face in your own home
Carers and community groups can often make house calls and this can sometimes make all the difference for people who are immobile or suffering from illness, says Phillip. “We are better off with face-to-face interaction when we can get it,” says Phillip. She recommends some form of social interaction every day for the best results. “All positive social interaction is beneficial no matter how small, even as small as a quick coffee with a friend,” she says.
How an in-home service provider like Just Better Care can help
In-home service provider, Just Better Care, provides a range of services to assist you to stay socially connected. Whether you need support to get out and about, or a companionship visit at home from a friendly face, Just Better Care will carefully match you with a carer. Just Better Care can also arrange transport and mobility services, so you can make a trip to the cinema, catch-up with friends at a cafe, or simply go to the shops.
For more information about how Just Better Care can help you connect socially and access your community, visit justbettercare.com or call 1300 587 823.
What are your favourite social activities?