Combating Loneliness to Keep Seniors Healthy and Happy
Dec 17, 2017 Cedars-Sinai Staff
The holidays are supposed to be the happiest time of the year, but many seniors are left feeling lonely—which can be harmful to their health.
Loneliness is linked to serious medical conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, stroke, and heart disease, as well as a higher risk of premature death. Still, it's often overlooked because healthcare providers can neglect asking older adults about their social lives and many patients are too proud or embarrassed to bring it up.
When Cedars-Sinai physicians and nurses screen seniors for isolation, they find that more than one third are lonely.
"Loneliness can rob older adults of their ability to live vibrant, independent lives," says Dr. Sonja Rosen, chief of geriatric medicine at Cedars-Sinai. "It doesn't have to be this way."
Fight holiday loneliness
To combat loneliness over the holidays, Dr. Rosen suggests seniors do the following:
- Search online listings: Throughout the holiday season recreation centers, libraries, museums, places of worship, and local colleges host free and low-cost community events.
- Reach out: The holidays are a great time to call and catch up with people. If you are a younger friend or relative, make a point of stopping by to visit older loved ones.
- Explore both new and familiar hobbies: Sign up for that art class you've always wanted to take, or offer to teach younger relatives and neighbors how to cook a favorite dish.
- Seek medical advice: A geriatrician can connect you to other resources and treatments in your community.
Stay active and foster new relationships year-round
Starting in January, as part of its ongoing work with seniors in the community, Cedars-Sinai will offer free exercise and health-management classes aimed at helping older adults stay connected and active. Cedars-Sinai has partnered with Jewish Family Service to host the classes at local community organizations.
The exercise class, developed by the Arthritis Foundation, features a workout with weightlifting, stretching, and balance training that can be adapted to any level of fitness. The program has been shown to increase strength and decrease the risk of falling. The group activity also fosters friendships while increasing confidence.
"Fear of falling is a big reason older people don't leave the house," says Dr. Allison Mays, a geriatrician. "The program can help older adults enjoy better health with fewer trips to the emergency room."
The health-management classes will cover topics such as how to manage medications and communicate with your doctor. The aim is to empower seniors to handle their health issues while forging connections with others who have similar concerns.
Cedars-Sinai geriatricians can also connect older patients to a range of community resources to help meet their needs at home.
"We want our older adults to maintain mobility and have more momentum in their lives," says geriatrician Dr. Elizabeth Whiteman. "We want them to preserve their independence and continue living where they want to live."
To join a class or to learn more, call 310-385-3511.