You may have heard May is Mental Health Awareness Month but did you know it is also Older Americans Month? OAM is not only a time to celebrate the contributions older adults make to our communities, it is also an opportunity to bring attention to the fact that those over 60 are particularly vulnerable to the mental and physical consequences of social isolation and loneliness. Consider this quote from one of our social media pages from someone reflecting on their relationship with family:
“It is a struggle... maybe it is just not meant to be. I need to accept it and move ahead or remain in this grief from not hearing from any of them. We all live close by, but rarely see or hear from them.”
Former U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, recently stated, “Widespread loneliness in the U.S. poses health risks as deadly as smoking a dozen cigarettes daily…Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and that’s not right”
We agree. Loneliness and isolation can have significant impacts on physical and mental health as well as someone’s overall quality of life. Impacts include:
- Mental Health Issues: Social isolation can contribute to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness among older adults. Lack of social interaction and support can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a decline in overall mental well-being. Approximately 7% of adults over the age of 60 experience depression, with rates increasing to 15-20% among those who require home health care and up to 50% among those in long-term care facilities.
- Physical Health Problems: cardiovascular problems, weakened immune function, cognitive decline, and a higher mortality rate. The lack of social engagement can also lead to sedentary behaviors and a decline in overall physical fitness.
- Increased Risk of Elder Abuse: Social isolation can make older adults more susceptible to abuse, including financial exploitation, neglect, and emotional mistreatment. Limited social connections may mean that signs of abuse or mistreatment go unnoticed or unreported.
- Reduced Access to Healthcare: Socially isolated older adults may face challenges in accessing healthcare services. They may struggle to get transportation to medical appointments, have difficulty managing medications, or experience delays in seeking necessary healthcare due to lack of support.
- Cognitive Decline: Social interactions play a crucial role in maintaining cognitive function. Socially isolated older adults may experience a higher rate of cognitive decline and an increased risk of developing conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Lack of family interaction has long been an issue for people over 60. Many of them feel forgotten, unimportant, disrespected, even thrown away by family. They are hurt, sad and angry. Consider a sampling of just a few public comments made on social media:
- “I have 3 children in their 50s and 3 grandchildren. I’m 80 and alone, my life sucks!!”
- I live in the same town no one calls or visits...I miss them so much.
- I made time for all of my family, now I feel deserted.
- They have their own lives, but they forget we got them there.
- I have 8 grandchildren, 1 great, I really do not know. I am very sad. I am sick and getting older.
Conversely, note the comments of those who are fortunate enough to have regular connections with those they care for most:
- I have four grandchildren and when they say, “Hi Granny”, it just makes my day, I live in the same house with them so I get to see them just about every day. Love them so much.
- I'm blessed, my son’s wife insisted I move with them versus being alone.
Murthy said social media is driving the increase in loneliness in particular stating, “Technology has rapidly exacerbated the loneliness problem, as we shifted to use technology more and more for our communication, we lost out on a lot of that in-person interaction”. That may be true, but as evident in the comments below, social media is also a place where older adults to vent frustrations and even share solutions for staying in touch with loved ones:
- I love my kids, their spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I text them whenever I need a fix. They are busy caring for kids and growing families. Send them an “I love you” whenever you want. You will feel better.
- Try sending a note to your kids. Tell them you would love to spend some time with them as kids get older - they don’t realize how lonely a parent can get.
- I am so blessed to have my Grandchildren and my Great Grandchildren and my Great Great Grandchildren. Some of them live a distance from me but they never fail to call me or text me to see how I am doing and to tell me they love me.
- Someone has to reach out, I call or write our grands regularly so to keep an open line. I know they are busy etc. but my letter or text keeps them in touch, then I hear from them.
Senior Technology Is Part of the Solution
In his statement, Murthy also posed a question:
“How do we design technology that strengthens our relationships as opposed to weaken them?”
We have, with Livindi.
Livindi is a comprehensive platform that aims to keep older adults connected and engaged with their families and their team of caregivers while also promoting physical and mental health. Here is just few of the features and services Livindi offers to support seniors in leading active, fulfilling lives:
- Video Calling: Video calling with the Livindi tablet allows older adults to connect with family members and loved ones easily. Research has shown that video calls can significantly impact the physical activity levels of seniors, with a 25% increase on days when they have had a video call. By enabling regular communication, Livindi helps reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, keeping older adults socially engaged and motivated.
- Remote Mental and Behavioral Health Services: 25+ Million rural Americans live in a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area, where there are too few providers to meet demand. Livindi works with or without Wi-Fi and enables older adults to receive counseling or psychiatric support from the comfort of their own homes, eliminating barriers like transportation and mobility issues. Using Livindi to receive mental health services remotely can help address behavioral health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and other cognitive disorders.
- Digital Picture Frame: Family and friends can send pictures and videos instantly to the Livindi tablet through an app, promoting social connection and strengthening relationships.
- Video Links as Agenda Items: Family members and caregivers can add video links to videos that are of interest to the older adult and are easily accessible to them to view on their Livindi tablet. For example, if an older adult has a passion for gardening, sharing videos related to gardening tips, beautiful gardens, or DIY projects can evoke enthusiasm and provide a sense of involvement.
- Activity and Behavior Monitoring For Early Detection and Intervention: Sensors and biometric devices help monitor activity and environment and can provide early indicators of potential health issues or changes in well-being. For example, changes in sleep patterns or sudden decreases in physical activity levels may signal underlying physical or mental health concerns. By continuously monitoring these factors, individuals and their healthcare providers can identify early warning signs and intervene promptly, potentially preventing the progression of health conditions or addressing mental health issues before they become more severe.
- Caregiver Support: Livindi also recognizes the importance of caregiver involvement in supporting older adults' health and well-being. The platform provides tools for caregivers to monitor activity levels, communicate with their loved ones, and receive updates on their health and engagement. This support system helps caregivers stay connected, informed, and engaged in their loved ones' lives.
This May, as we continue to observe Mental Health Awareness Month and Older Americans Month, it is crucial to shed light on the challenges faced by older adults, particularly regarding social isolation and loneliness. We must continue to explore innovative solutions that prioritize human connection and well-being. By embracing technology like Livindi and committing to support mental health and well-being, we can continue to make positive impacts on the lives of older adults, their families and caregivers, fostering a sense of belonging, purpose, overall improved health and quality of life.