Patients who are dealing with loneliness can be one of the saddest experiences in our work. Did you know that socially isolated, lonely elderly patients may actually have a higher risk of early death? If these patients do not have social contact in their lives, this could be an important risk factor.
Why Is Isolation a Predictor of Early Death?
Researchers do not understand why the social aspects of loneliness and isolation are such powerful predictors. In our field, we know that social contact is important for a patient’s geriatric mental health. What we did not previously know was how readily isolation and loneliness could lead not only to serious illnesses but also to a reduced life expectancy.
Loneliness and isolation are inter-related and result from a lack of contact with relatives, friends and organizations or social groups. Loneliness is usually described as a lack of social contact and companionship.
Still, researchers were not expecting such serious findings. We must watch the social connections of our patients, so that we can reduce isolation. Loneliness and isolation can affect their quality of life, as well.
Educating Elder Patients
Education about the risks of isolation and encouraging patients to spend time with others is a path to preventing early death from loneliness and lack of social contact. Whether they spend time with friends or family, or join groups and activities within a residential setting, these interactions are possibly more important than we ever realized.
Prevention and Treatment for Loneliness
We are in a unique position to help our patients with geriatric mental health care. We recognize that loneliness is a sure sign that something must change. We must help our patients in understanding that loneliness can affect them not just mentally, but physically. Therapy may be especially beneficial to these clients.
Encourage our patients to consider activities with others, either within the residential setting or outside it, if they are able. Perhaps they could volunteer with a group that is of interest to them. This gives them an opportunity for meeting new people and in cultivating new social interaction and friendships.
As we focus on developing relationships for our patients, we can connect them with people who have similar values and interests. Above all, we must remain positive and expect the best from our patients. Where they may expect rejection, we must focus on positive attitudes and thoughts in their social relationships.