Older adults are at increased risk of loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss. Nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated. Florida ranked 23rd in the country for the number of older adults at risk for social isolation and loneliness, according to the America’s Health Rankings 2023 Senior Report.
Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and one of the deadliest diseases in the country. More than 580,000 Floridians live with Alzheimer’s – a number projected to increase 24.1 percent to 750,000 by 2025.
Dr. Joel Caschette, Chief Medical Officer, UnitedHeathcare Medicare and Retirements Plans of Florida offers these tips to help seniors support brain health, and reduce the risk or delay the onset of dementia, while also reducing the feelings of social isolation and loneliness.
• Find Ways to Stay Social: People who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. These activities seem to help maintain their well-being and may improve their cognitive function, studies show.
• Make healthier lifestyle choices. Studies show moderate exercise like walking, yoga or going to a fitness center can help improve brain function, especially in the areas responsible for learning and memory. Talk to your health plan about fitness programs that may be available at no additional cost like UnitedHealthcare’s RenewActive.* Lifestyle choices that help reduce cardiovascular risk, like exercise, a healthy diet, low-to-moderate alcohol consumption, and not smoking, appear to also slow brain aging.
• Get Enough Sleep: Sleep deprivation can lead to problems with memory and cognitive abilities. Sleep is essential for brain maintenance, like removing built-up toxins in your brain.
• Use It or Lose It: Whether it’s crossword puzzles, reading or painting, keeping your brain mentally stimulated may help keep it young.
• Managing Chronic Illnesses. Common diseases in older adults, such as diabetes and heart disease may affect brain function. Talk with your health care provider about treatment plans and managing chronic conditions like diabetes.