Combating Social Isolation Among Older Adults During Special Holidays

July 3, 2024

When we think of holidays and social isolation, our minds often go to larger celebrations like Thanksgiving or Christmas. However, any holiday occurrence where families and neighbors gather can be particularly challenging for older adults. As we move into this July 4th weekend, it's important to remember that older neighbors and family members might need extra care to help combat loneliness. Research on social isolation conducted by the Strategy & Impact team at Meals On Wheels Central Texas found that social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Adults 50 and over who are lonely or isolated are more at risk for heart disease, stroke, dementia, and premature death. Michael Wilson, Chief Operating Officer of Meals on Wheels Central Texas emphasizes the unique challenges holidays pose for older adults. He states, "The holiday season can intensify feelings of loneliness for older adults, as they often face isolation and the absence of loved ones, making this time of year particularly challenging."

Older adults may not always communicate their feelings directly, so it's essential to be vigilant about the signs of depression. Here are some indicators to look for:

  • Withdrawal from Activities: If an older adult who usually enjoys soclializing or participating in activites suddenly withdraws, it might be a sign of depression.
  • Changes in Appetite: Noticeable changes in eating habits, whether it’s eating too little or too much, can indicate emotional distress.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or oversleeping are common symptoms of depression.
  • Lack of Energy: Persistent fatigue or a general lack of enthusiasm for daily tasks can be a red flag.
  • Expressions of Hopelessness: Pay attention to verbal cues that might suggest feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.


Supporting older adults during holidays doesn’t always require grand gestures! Small, thoughtful actions can make a significant difference. Here are four ways to help:

  • Regular Check-ins: Frequent phone calls or visits can provide emotional support and show that someone cares. Simply listening can be incredibly comforting.
  • Inclusive Invitations: Include older adults in holiday plans. Even if they can’t attend, knowing they are wanted can lift their spirits.
  • Assist with Technology: Help them set up video calls with distant family and friends. This can bridge the physical gap and provide a sense of connection during holiday gatherings. 
  • Deliver Meals or Treats: Bringing a meal or holiday treat can brighten their day and provide an opportunity for a brief social interaction. Bringing festive decorations helps bring the holiday to their home. 

 

As we celebrate this July 4th weekend, let’s remember the importance of reaching out to our older neighbors and family members. Here are a few ideas for bringing July 4th celebrations to those who are homebound.

  • Watch the Fireworks on TV. Join the older adult in your life in their home and marvel at the fireworks, local or streaming, safely from the couch. 
  • Include Them in Meal Prep Bring the BBQ to them. Have a cookout in their yard or patio and include them in simple meal prep, chopping vegetables and fruit.

 

 By recognizing the signs of depression and taking small, meaningful actions, we can help combat loneliness and ensure that everyone feels included and cared for during the holidays.