One of the most significant problems faced by seniors living alone is isolation. Chronic illness, financial problems, and mobility issues can make getting out of the house and visiting friends and family difficult. Loneliness caused by isolation can substantially negatively impact a senior’s physical and mental health.
In a society that is so spread out and individualized, it’s too easy for isolated seniors in need to fall through the cracks. Meals on Wheels is a senior meal delivery program that brings meals right to seniors’ doorsteps. But that’s not all they do. This program is designed to look out for seniors and support them through all of their needs. They do this through a network of people who keep an eye on each recipient. This network all starts with the volunteers delivering the meals. At each delivery, they perform a welfare check, and if any help is needed, they pass on the information to the appropriate person.
Loneliness in older people is common, and Meals on Wheels ensures that each recipient gets social interaction when their meal is delivered. It takes a few minutes to stop and ask about their day. For some, this may be the only interaction they get in a day, so it’s incredibly important.
Social isolation or loneliness can cause or worsen mental health problems like depression or anxiety, which has been linked to developing new or worsening physical health problems.
The Impact of Isolation and Loneliness on Seniors
Social isolation occurs when a person is cut off or apart from others. Social isolation can cause loneliness, which is when a person is unhappy about being alone. Over 13 million people 65 years or older live alone in the US. And it’s too easy for these seniors to become cut off and isolated from their friends, family, and community through no fault. Limited mobility and chronic health issues can make getting out of the house difficult, even with help. While isolation and loneliness by themselves are not really dangerous, they can have serious physical and mental consequences.
Isolated seniors may fall or suffer an injury and have no one to help them. Or they may develop depression or anxiety as a result of prolonged isolation. Numerous studies have even demonstrated that isolation has a negative impact on physical health.
Many factors can cause depression, including extreme loneliness. Depression caused by loneliness can even affect seniors who have never experienced it before in their lives. This condition often makes people feel fatigued or numb and can cause them to no longer enjoy activities they may have previously loved. They may sleep too little or too much and feel hopeless. Unfortunately, the symptoms of depression are why it’s so hard to seek help. Someone who feels hopeless will not want to ask for help.
And while some depression will need medical intervention, social interaction in everyday life can help. This is especially true if the depression stems from isolation.
Anxiety is another potential consequence of isolation or loneliness. Anxiety takes many forms and can be mild or very serious, depending on other mental health issues.
Feeling cut off, constantly worried, or overwhelmed can cause anxiety attacks, panic attacks, and insomnia. Seniors with severe anxiety may be afraid to leave their houses or try anything new because of the irrational worry it causes. The more anxiety that a senior feels, the less likely they are to reach out for help.
Isolation and loneliness can also have negative consequences on physical health. Studies have linked social isolation to cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. Older people are already more susceptible to new or worsening conditions. Poor living conditions, including poor mental health, can make it hard for the body to fight off diseases or repair itself properly.
Social isolation can also be dangerous for seniors because no one can help in an emergency. For many seniors, a bad fall means a trip to the hospital. But if they don’t have a phone or medical alert device, they may be unable to get help. There is also the possibility of an accidental overdose of medication or other serious problems. Seniors tend to need a lot of support from people around them, and living alone cuts them off from that support.
Meals on Wheels – A Solution to Combat Isolation and Loneliness
For a homebound senior, regular social connections may take a lot of work to find. But while Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver meals, they also bring hope and social connection. The program helps reduce seniors’ loneliness through a network of caring people who work hard to bring help to the doorsteps of elderly persons in need.
Meals on Wheels isn’t just a meal plan. It includes recipients in a social and institutional network that can help them live out their lives on their own terms by offering several services for seniors and bringing them social connections they may not otherwise get. The people within the program can provide recommendations for medical care and other outside help. And even maintaining daily social connections can positively impact a senior’s physical and mental health.
Sometimes all it takes is a simple conversation to make a person feel like a part of a bigger community and feel less alone. A study asked Meals on Wheels recipients how the program impacted their lives, and many said that they had little daily contact with friends or family and relied on their daily meal delivery for social connections. In addition, 92% of recipients surveyed said that Meals on Wheels allowed them to live in their own homes instead of moving to a group home.
This program doesn’t just prepare meals for seniors. The connections made each day during deliveries can change lives for the better. It’s the little things that make all the difference. A ready-to-go meal, a friendly conversation, or help from the community can bring real positive change to a senior’s life.
How you can help Combat Isolation and Loneliness in your Community
Meals on Wheels doesn’t just offer meals. They bring human connection to those who feel lonely and isolated. Extreme isolation can take its toll on a person’s health and overall well-being. Meals on Wheels combats that isolation head-on with volunteer drivers who check in on each recipient when they deliver the meals. They take a minute to connect with each person on their route because they understand how vital connection is and how much good a little kindness can do.
If you want to support the seniors in your area, head over to the Meals on Wheels website and check out how you can help. There are many different ways to donate, and volunteers are always welcome. Meals on Wheels helps over 2,600 homebound seniors with their meal delivery program. By donating or volunteering, you can be part of a program that changes the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of your community.
By helping Meals on Wheels, you’re not just providing senior meals to those in need. You’re giving isolated seniors some social connection that might be otherwise difficult to get. You’re giving them a gift that can improve their well-being and help them live independently.