While many people mostly associate suicide with teens and young adults, the truth is that people of all ages take their own lives each year, and are sometimes actually more likely to do so as they get older. Sadly, older adults in certain populations are especially vulnerable to suicide. Recently, for instance, there’s been an uptick in suicides among the senior population in rural areas.
Social connections are crucial to people of all ages for general well-being. In modern Western society, however, these connections often begin to break down as a person ages. Friends pass away, children become more involved in their own lives, and seniors have fewer social outlets that allow them to fight off loneliness. Seniors who live alone are especially at risk for isolation, depression, and suicide.
As a society, we often tell ourselves that we’ve never been more connected to other people than we are now, thanks to the Internet. In reality, online connections do little to stave off loneliness in the aging population. In the United States, nearly 70% of all adults own a social media account – including many seniors. Studies show that social media, however, can create a sense of isolation – rather than the camaraderie it was meant to build.
Fighting Loneliness in Ohio
People are starting to recognize the real consequences of loneliness in the aging population. For some, compassion and concern for seniors has led to new programs designed to help older Americans with this growing problem. For example, Vanessa Jackson, a Wellness Coordinator at the May Dugan Center in Cleveland, Ohio, has created a way for seniors to connect in person, to learn, and to have some fun. She hosts different activities that bring people together and push them out of their normal routines.
These kinds of programs can be critical for older men and women who do not have an active social life on their own. People who don’t have any family or friends nearby can participate in activities at the center and gain a sense of purpose. It may seem simple, but just the social interaction and mental stimulation involved in meeting other members of the community can help older men and women feel happier, less isolated, and enjoy better mental and physical health.
The Senior Population and Mental Health
Mental health affects people across all age groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physicians diagnose more than 20% of adults over the age of 55 with a mental health issue.
We need to remember that seniors have all of the needs that younger people have and then some. Not only are they contending with similar problems as younger populations, but they also face age-related physical changes and cognitive decline, changing expectations for their lives, and adjustments due to changes in their circumstances and social circle.
It’s important to make sure that every senior feels supported and has access to mental health support. That doesn’t just mean counseling and medication, but also ways to fulfill social needs and opportunities to fight cognitive decline. People who do not have supportive friends or family members are especially vulnerable to mental health issues and related problems like loneliness.
Fulfilling Life’s Basic Needs
Intuitively, human beings are social creatures. Technically, we only need food, water, and sleep to survive, but to thrive and live a normal, healthy, long life, we also need social interactions. That need doesn’t diminish as we get older, even as opportunities start to become scarcer. In fact, research suggests that losing access to regular social interaction leading to social isolation can pose serious health risks for seniors, both mental (depression, cognitive decline) and physical (heart disease, high blood pressure).
For good health, seniors should be exercising their brains, participating in group activities, and spending time talking with others in person on a regular basis. Seniors who live alone are particularly at risk for loneliness, depression, isolation, and suicide. Fulfilling the basic need of interaction seems so simple, but it can literally mean the difference between life and death.
It’s Not All Bad News
The good news about isolation and mental health in seniors is that there are lots of people actively researching the problem and considering possible solutions. At least one researcher is looking into how the structural obstacles and environment of people with cognitive decline living alone affects a person’s well-being—and trying to find ways to adjust that environment for the better.
We may not have all the answers when it comes to reducing suicide among the elderly and helping them feel less lonely. But there are people out there who care and are making a difference for entire communities. It’s also important to remember: we can all make a positive difference in the lives of the seniors in our own lives.
Photo is pixabay creative commons
Guest Author Bio
With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.