Jayney's Blog

Avoiding social isolation in older adults over the holidays

Although holidays are meant to be a time of celebration and togetherness, they can have a negative impact on older adults who run a high risk of being socially isolated.

Social isolation, although easily overlooked as a health concern, can have the same negative impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“The medical community and government leaders are increasingly recognizing loneliness as a significant public health issue for older adults,” says Sonja Rosen, MD. “There are many ways to combat social isolation, especially over the holidays when it’s easy to feel alone.”

Even when older adults prefer to live alone, isolation can be a health risk. Gypsy Hartman, 67, prefers to live alone, and prizes her privacy and freedom. After breaking her leg last year, Hartman joined a free exercise class at a local community centre. The classes bring older adults together for group workouts, and aim to help to prevent falls and combat social isolation.

Hartman has found that she enjoys lifting weights, stretching, and doing calisthenics at her local class. It has strengthened her muscles and provides an opportunity for her to connect with others.

“It’s nice to get out and be around other people. It gives me something to look forward to and a sense of wellbeing,” Hartman said. “I really wanted to get stronger, and it feels good to stretch and build up my strength.” 

The classes – light or enhanced strength training and tai chi – have been found to decrease the risk of falling in clinical research. The fitness programme is also being studied to determine if the classes also reduce social isolation in the older adults, and early data suggests that they do.

“We hope that these classes improve social connectedness among participants and increase their ability to lead independent, vibrant lives,” said geriatrician Allison Mays, MD, MAS, who is leading the study.

As well as group fitness, Rosen and Mays also suggest the following to fight loneliness:

  • Volunteer – find local non-profit organisations who need help.
  • Tap community resources – libraries, museums, recreation centres, and colleges often host free, low-cost community events.
  • Reconnect – the holidays are a good excuse to call loved ones.
  • Seek medical advice – a geriatrician is able to connect older adults with other resources and potential treatments.

For information about the exercise program, contact Katrina Rosales at 310-248-6242 or katrina.rosales@csmns.org.


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