When caregiving draws us closer to a family member’s routines, we’re sometimes surprised by what we find. Perhaps you’ve noticed that Dad only leaves the house once or twice a week.
Social isolation has been shown to be a risk factor for many conditions. Depression. Heart disease. Obesity. Dementia. Should you be concerned? Not necessarily.
Although 28% of older adults live alone, not all of them feel lonely. Similarly, a person may be surrounded by others but still feel isolated. Before becoming alarmed, consider if your loved one is an extrovert or an introvert.
- like to be out and about in the world
- get energized by doing things with others and often initiate activities
- like to “think out loud” about decisions and want others’ feedback
- find routine, such as solitary housework, unappealing
- are naturally quieter and keep thoughts to themselves
- enjoy an active inner world
- get energized by contemplating ideas and memories
- like people but typically have a few close friends rather than a big social circle
Mom may have always been an introvert and happily so. A solitary lifestyle is only a problem if your loved one wishes things were different. Is your loved one’s pattern in later life different from their earlier pattern? Common causes of isolation include death of a partner, friends getting sick or moving, loss of a driver’s license, or increased difficulty getting around.
More important than having become isolated is whether your relative seems distressed by the change. He or she may or may not talk openly about feeling lonely. But depression from loneliness may show itself in other ways. Confused thinking. Irritability. Loss of appetite. Or difficulty sleeping.
If loneliness is a concern, consider making social activity a higher priority. And ask the doctor to do a depression screening. The hazards of stressful isolation are too risky to ignore.