Carol Cummings, RN, BSN, Expert on Aging Well

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17 January 2020

The ill-effects of loneliness on seniors are well documented and can lead to an array of health problems, and even death. According to a Health Resources and Services Administration study, those who are lonely have a 45% increased risk of mortality, making it an important risk factor for health care professionals to evaluate. In fact, this same study says that loneliness can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  

While many older adults live alone and are socially isolated, according to an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine, loneliness is distinct from these measures and can exist within the context of marriage or in a community setting. This is why it is important to evaluate it separately from social connections and interactions.

For February’s Optimum Life Continuing Education Series, I sit down with Charles Richardson, senior director of resident programs at Brookdale, to discuss this topic. Engagement: Combatting Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults is offered to nurses, nursing home administrators, case managers and social workers for continuing education credit.

This webinar highlights the importance of identifying loneliness, explores the role of ageism in developing feelings of isolation, and discusses how relationships and a sense of purpose can ease those negative feelings.

“I believe that the impact of ageism, specifically our society’s tendency to treat older adults like children, contributes to feelings of loneliness,” said Richardson. “Tackling this issue and helping aging adults see and really understand their value will help combat loneliness.”

If you think a family member, friend, patient or resident is having feelings of loneliness, Richardson and I offer four tips for easing those feelings.  

  1. Take a person-centered approach in every setting. Get to know the older adults that you care for. Learn what matters to them and what will bring them meaning.
  2. Find Purpose. Many older adults need to reinvent their purpose in their later years due to the loss of family or other roles, and they may need help and encouragement. Help them explore new interests, values and passions.
  3. Encourage friendship. Increase the number of meaningful relationships in their life by connecting them with other people who have similar hobbies.
  4. Encourage acceptance.   Accepting the aging process leads to a more positive outlook and a willingness to enjoy what is still possible. Help older adults work through the challenges of aging by encouraging the expression of feelings and focusing on what they are still able to accomplish or enjoy in their life.

“Simple acts can lead to monumental improvements,” said Richardson.

In addition to these tips, the Engagement: Combatting Loneliness in Older Adults webinar will:

  • Explain the existence and risks of isolation and loneliness for older adults.
  • Discuss the importance of identifying and addressing loneliness in older adults in all settings.
  • Define ageism and its role in driving and supporting society stereotypes that impact older adults’ feelings of isolation and loss of meaning.
  • Articulate how a culture of relationships, connections and purpose help to combat isolation and reduce loneliness.

To learn more and to register for Engagement: Combatting Loneliness in Older Adults for professional credit, visit Brookdale’s Optimum Life Continuing Education page.

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