Senior's loneliness and isolation is a dangerous and increasingly common epidemic in the U.S., especially in light of COVID-19 restrictions. With approximately one-third of all seniors living alone, for a variety of reasons (mobility problems, chronic health conditions, and the loss of family and friends, for instance), socialization for seniors is an ongoing challenge.
Research from the National Institute for Health Care Management shows that senior isolation is as detrimental to an older adult's health just as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. It brings about a heightened threat for heart problems, stroke, and even an early death than those whose lives are more social.
It's also important to understand that isolation is different from loneliness. The late John T. Cacioppo, Ph.D., previous director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago described social isolation as "the objective physical separation from other people (living alone)." At the same time, loneliness is "the subjective distressed feeling of being alone or separated." So someone can experience feelings of loneliness even amid friends and family, while someone else may spend quite a bit of time alone, yet not feel lonely.
Both isolation and loneliness are risk factors for serious health problems, and benefits exist for seniors who stay social. Older adults whose lives are social, for instance, achieve some health benefits, especially in the areas of:
Cognitive Functioning: Socializing with others provides the opportunity to release tension and boost mental health, which has a positive impact on memory and helps to reduce cognitive decline.
Emotional Wellbeing: Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem are lower for those who are socially connected, providing a sense of belonging and the ability to manage mental health concerns better.
Physical Wellbeing: Physical activity is a vital component of maximizing physical health in seniors, and those who are social have the motivation needed to stay active and engaged.
Furthermore, social seniors tend to live longer lives than those who are isolated.
One great way to enhance socialization for seniors is by downsizing from a larger family home into a senior apartment community, which naturally lends itself to more opportunities for socializing. NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities) are also conveniently located near doctors' offices and grocery stores – an added benefit for older adults for whom transportation is a challenge.
Renting an apartment and living in a multifamily residential property provides a wealth of benefits to older adults, including:
- The ability to form friendships with neighbors, who become like an extended family
- Enhanced safety in knowing help is close by, and that neighbors are watching out for each other
- Maintenance professionals who take care of any needed repairs as well as all yardwork
- A smaller space than a large, single-family home, which is easier to keep clean and organized
- A sense of belonging to a community – something that is particularly important for seniors who live at a distance from family and friends, or those who have limited local social contacts
- And many others
Additionally, there are financial savings to consider for seniors who opt for an apartment rental over the several expenses of homeownership, which includes not only mortgage payments, but property taxes, upkeep (and sometimes replacement) of significant equipment and appliances, homeowner's insurance, utilities, etc.
According to Kirk Chisholm, wealth manager and principal at Innovative Advisory Group, "One of the biggest myths of homeownership is that it is an investment. It isn't. Owning a home that you live in is an expense, not an investment. An investment is one that generates cash flow. Sure, there are some benefits of owning a home, but when you factor in the costs, tying up large amounts of capital, illiquidity of the home, and that house prices don't always go up, it makes for a much less attractive 'investment.'"
Furthermore, apartments for those aged 55 and older (as well as many apartments that are open to residents of all ages) offer a variety of amenities, such as a pool, gym, community center for planned events and activities, and security personnel – to name a few.
In short, there are significant financial risks inherent with owning a home, and for seniors, many of whom are on a limited budget, renting an apartment is the all-around best option – to enhance socialization while alleviating loneliness and isolation, and so much more.
If you're interested in learning more about senior socialization, visit Senior HomeCare of Tucson, providers of professional in-home care services for seniors.