Senior isolation and loneliness is a growing concern. One-fourth of adults 65 and over report feeling isolated regularly, while one-third of adults 45 and over say they regularly feel lonely. These feelings can have detrimental effects on a person’s health, including increased risk of premature death, dementia, heart disease and hospitalizations.
Seniors become isolated and lonely for several reasons. They may not live close to siblings or their adult children, have had a spouse who has passed away, fallen out of touch with their hobbies and interests, or have limited mobility issues.
The senior living staff in communities across the country are armed with a variety of tools and techniques to combat senior isolation and loneliness. Rich with resources, opportunities for connection and invigorating environments, many older adults find everything to lead a meaningful social life.
The American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) conducted in-depth case studies on senior living communities across the country and discovered the many ways staff members play a key role in the well-being of residents. See how they’re taking steps to help older adults prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation, and learn how you can kick-start your search for a community that’s right for you.
Providing a Variety of Ways to Get Active and Stay Social
One of the best ways to combat social isolation in seniors is physical activity. A 2022 study released by Geriatric Nursing found that seniors with moderate to high physical activity levels can gain these incredible benefits:
- 15% to 30% lower likelihood of experiencing social isolation
- 15% to 30% lower likelihood of experiencing loneliness
- 41% to 56% likelihood of reducing feelings of depression
- 39% to 59% likelihood of improving a fair or poor health status
- 62% to 69% increased likelihood of improving limited mobility
ASHA’s 2022 special issue brief on reducing social isolation in older adults found that physical activity is intentionally prioritized in social engagement activities in most senior living communities. Group fitness classes led by passionate experts not only get residents moving, but they also encourage socialization during class.
Common ways communities help strengthen social ties between residents and senior living staff is by having them take part in fun and physically challenging activities together. Examples include activities like drumming classes using exercise balls, group classes in the pool and yoga classes.
Warmly Welcoming New Residents to Help Them Break the Ice
Stepping out of their comfort zone and into the social scene at a senior living community can be intimidating for many people. In fact, fear of social rejection can lead some older adults to avoid social opportunities altogether, according to a study published by PLOS ONE.
The staff and current residents at many communities across the country help new residents settle in and get social by providing them a variety of ways to meet their new neighbors in comfortable settings.
ASHA found new residents were woven into the fabric of the community with activities, events and personal touches like:
- A welcoming committee with both staff and residents
- Meet-your-neighbor parties
- Buddy systems and resident floor captains assigned to new residents
- Fun fact sheets for staff and care partners to learn about new resident’s backgrounds, likes and dislikes
- Programs that pair new residents with a staff member who helps them get to know the community
- Special dinner schedules to introduce them to more residents in the community
- Personalized recommendations for activities they might enjoy based on their interests
Our special brief also found many communities hold special events to encourage connections outside of a resident’s immediate social circle, support new friendships, and minimize social cliques.
Getting to Know Each Resident and the Interests of the Entire Community
ASHA found that intentional approaches to deepen relationships between residents and staff are a vital part of planned programming and the overall experience in a senior living community.
Along with new resident/staff pairing programs, communities are getting high tech to get to know each resident and the interests of the entire community.
Using apps and other technology solutions to analyze the interests, backgrounds, and goals of each resident is an effective way to cater the activities, events and programs to the interests of the entire community. For example, if the community has a high percentage of self-identified “foodies,” they’ll plan more culinary-based experiences, such as cooking demonstrations from a local chef, mixology classes with the in-house bartender, and a recipe-sharing club run by residents.
While personalized programming increases engagement levels, it also gives residents the opportunity to connect with others with similar interests, and plants the seed for meaningful connections to grow.
Helping Residents Navigate Technology for Safer Social Connectedness
A 2022 study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has shown communication technologies can significantly reduce senior isolation and loneliness.
This was especially useful during periods of long lockdowns and lengthy quarantines during the COVID-19 pandemic. ASHA found the staff at senior living communities are committed to helping residents use technology to safely communicate and stay connected to their friends and family.
Here are a few ways senior living staff is using technology to combat social isolation in seniors:
- Teaching residents to use Zoom and FaceTime in order to access virtual programming and chat with friends and family living outside the community
- Teaching residents how to embrace virtual technology
- Designing custom technology platforms to foster meaningful connections between residents, staff and the broader community
- Connecting residents and staff through web-based platforms and online news feeds
- Providing an on-site tech concierge
Virtual options are helpful for those who experience functional challenges and chronic pain, which may create more difficulty in attending in-person events and activities. Staff members play a key role in facilitating these events and making them accessible for all residents. ASHA found 60% of communities in our case studies indicated they plan to continue using virtual programs indefinitely.
Breaking the Cycle Between Falls and Senior Isolation
Fall prevention and senior isolation are also strongly associated. A 2017 study by the Journal of American Medical Directors Association (JAMDA) found older adults who self-reported unsteadiness or difficulty with balance were more likely to restrict their overall activity because of fear of falling, which led to an increase in social isolation.
Another study released by Scientific Reports found both living alone and low social engagement increase the risk of falls that lead to hospitalization. This study also noted the increase could be related to an environment that’s not conducive to aging in place and less contact with people who are more likely to notice fall hazards in their home.
This means an older adult who experiences a fall may have an increased risk of social isolation, which could then increase their likelihood of another fall.
Senior living communities with a diverse senior living staff can help prevent falls in older adults in a variety of ways:
- Programs, classes, and tips on maintaining balance, offered both in-person and virtually
- Fitness experts to teach group classes focused on balance and fall prevention
- Housekeeping services to help keep clutter off the floor
- Maintenance team members to fix fall hazards in residences and around the community
In Life Plan Communities, also referred to as continuing care retirement communities/CCRCs, residents can move first into independent senior living, yet know that rehabilitation and skilled nursing stays, personal care, and memory care are available on-site if needed.
Specialists like occupational and physical therapists can help injured seniors regain their strength and balance, provide techniques to help them maintain an active lifestyle, and offer a shoulder to lean on when rehabilitation after an injury, illness- or hospital stay feels extra-challenging.
Find the Community That’s Just Right for Your or a Loved One’s Retirement
Whether you’re an active adult searching for an independent living community or a family caregiver looking for higher levels of senior care, our Find a Community tool can match you with a community in your area. Make sure you look at our other research-based resources to help you know what your senior living options are, learn the benefits of living in a senior living community, and become equipped with the information you need to make the right decision.
Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.