Earlier this year, the Motion Picture and Television Fund hosted the second annual Social Isolation and Loneliness Impact Summit at the organization’s Wasserman Campus. Featuring workshops, discussions, and presentations from experts including Carla M. Perissinotto, a UC San Francisco professor of geriatrics, and Lynda Flowers, a senior policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute, the summit was an important opportunity to raise awareness of and discuss solutions for the growing problem of isolation in older adults.
As an organization dedicated to supporting entertainment community members in living and aging well, the Motion Picture and Television Fund is used to helping older entertainment industry professionals with all sorts of challenges. However, it’s only relatively recently that social isolation and loneliness among seniors have been acknowledged as a serious and prevalent health concern that deserves widespread attention. Read on for a look at seven important facts about seniors and social isolation.
Seniors are lonelier than ever.
According to a 2010 survey from AARP, more adults in the US are reporting feelings of loneliness and isolation than ever before. In the survey, 40% of adults between the ages of 62 and 91 said that they were occasionally or frequently lonely; for comparison, only about 20% of adults in the 1980s said they were lonely. In addition, nearly one-third of Americans over the age of 65 live alone.
Feelings of loneliness can have a negative impact on physical and mental health.
An increasing body of research is connecting loneliness and isolation with all sorts of physical and mental health challenges—from high blood pressure to depression—and while this is true for people of any age, it’s especially so for older adults. For example, data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging project reveals that seniors are more likely to report having poor physical and/or mental health if they also report feelings of loneliness and isolation. Similarly, findings from the research of neuroscientist Dr. John Cacioppo suggest that loneliness may also contribute to poor cognitive performance, quicker cognitive decline, and a higher risk of dementia.
The risk of mortality is increased in isolated seniors.
A study published in 2013 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that both social isolation and loneliness could be linked to a higher risk of mortality for adults over the age of 52. One reason for this, according to the study, could be the lack of a network of friends and confidantes who can prompt medical attention if acute symptoms develop.
Isolated seniors are more vulnerable to elder abuse.
It’s not just health that is at risk when seniors are socially isolated. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that many studies are linking higher rates of elder abuse with increased social isolation of seniors. It’s not clear whether this is because isolated seniors are more likely to become victims, or because abusers deliberately work to isolate older adults from others to avoid being discovered. Either way, speaking up and maintaining connections with seniors are important preventative measures.
LGBTQ+ seniors are more likely to be socially isolated.
While a variety of factors contribute to social isolation, some groups are more likely than others to face isolation as they age. For example, according to Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), LGBTQ+ seniors are twice as likely to live alone as other older adults. In addition, they are less likely to have children and more likely to be estranged from family members. All these factors, as well as stigma and discrimination, can make it even more difficult for these seniors to cope with the challenges of loneliness and isolation.
Caregivers of seniors are also at risk for social isolation.
When family members or friends are providing care for an older person, particularly someone with dementia or a physical impairment, they also risk becoming lonely and socially isolated. Being a caregiver is a major responsibility, and many people feel they must prioritize caregiving duties above everything else in their lives, including social relationships. Not surprisingly, this can lead to loneliness and depression in the caregiver, as well as in the person they are caring for.
Loneliness can be expensive.
A 2017 study from the AARP Public Policy Institute revealed that social isolation among older adults is associated with approximately $6.7 billion in additional annual Medicare spending. According to the study, annual Medicare spending on older adults cost about $1,600 more when those seniors were socially isolated than when they had better social connections. This is partly due to the fact that socially isolated seniors were one-third more likely to need care from a skilled nursing facility.
How can you help?
The Motion Picture and Television Fund is working to combat senior loneliness with initiatives like the above-mentioned summit and programs like the Daily Call Sheet. Click here to find out how you can get involved in helping to end seniors’ social isolation.