Senior Woman looking out window

We’re Not All Martha Stewarts: Social Frailty in Older Adults Comes With Health Risks

You’ve probably seen it already. The 2023 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover featuring 81-year-old Martha Stewart living her very best life. It’s impressive but Martha isn’t most of us. For one, she’s got an estimated net worth of $400 million. Yeah, that certainly isn’t most of us but with her wealth comes something else that many her age don’t have. Community. Through her work, through her wealth and ability to access resources that many Americans unfortunately don’t have. 

Understanding Social Frailty 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the topic of social frailty is not only important for us to know about for ourselves but also the older people in our lives whether that’s an aging parent, family member, friend or neighbor.  

So what exactly is social frailty?  

Also referred to as “social vulnerability” the word “frailty” typically has meant physical issues due to age or illness causing a person to be weak, fragile and needing assistance. Add the social aspect to it and it means that our social connections are decreased or sometimes nonexistent which research has shown can lead to a host of issues especially health risks.   

Lack of Social Connections Increase Health Risks of Older Adults 

As we age, our social connections and interactions play a vital role in maintaining our overall wellbeing and sense of purpose. Certain factors play out as we age like physical limitations, loss of loved ones and friend groups, retirement, geographical separation, reduced mobility and limited access to transportation or technology. Such circumstances often result in social isolation which often leads to social frailty impacting a person’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. 

Mental & Emotional Health: Social frailty can cause feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety. The lack of meaningful social interactions and support networks increases the risk of cognitive decline, dementia and can impact existing mental health conditions. Because human beings thrive on social connections, social frailty can lead to a sense of abandonment, loss of purpose, and a decline in self-esteem.  

Physical Health: Older adults experiencing social isolation are more prone to chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes, and even mortality. The absence of social support hinders the development of healthy habits, such as regular exercise and proper nutrition. 

5 Ways to Prevent Social Frailty 

  1. Community Engagement: It may take effort but trying to participate in community programs, local clubs and volunteer activities can foster new connections and combat social isolation. You just may develop a new friendship! 
  2. Transportation Services: You can’t get out into the community if you have no way of getting there. Something as seemingly simple as having transportation can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Research community-based transportation programs, volunteer driver initiatives or subsidized public transportation options so you or your loved one can get out of the house. 
  3. Use Technology: Technology can be challenging at any age as things change quickly but reach out to a friend, family member or a grandchild to help you with this. Texting is a way of staying connected or joining a social media platform like Facebook is another way of connecting.  
  4. Support Networks: Strengthening existing support networks, such as family, friends, and neighbors, is essential in combating social frailty. Check in with a friend or organize a social gathering that involves various generations.  
  5. Healthcare and Social Service Collaboration: Often healthcare providers and social service organizations can identify those at risk of social frailty and help develop personalized interventions. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider to help come up with a plan to combat social frailty. 

Curious if you might be eligible for a companion or service dog due to your situation? Check out Do You Qualify for a Service or Companion Animal?  

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