Communication Challenges Impact Older Adults: Social Relationships, Isolation, Loneliness, Medical Conditions

Communication Challenges Impact Older Adults: Social Relationships, Isolation, Loneliness, Medical Conditions

Older people who can’t express their thoughts or feelings and have difficulty communicating with friends and family may have a higher risk of social isolation and loneliness. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified this as an important – yet neglected – social determinant of health (SDOH). When seniors can’t communicate, many become reclusive, depressed or experience other mental health issues.  

Studies document that healthy social relationships are important for maintaining mental and physical health in later life. Additionally, less social support, smaller social networks and more negative social interactions have been linked to poorer immune functioning, lower self-rated health, increased incidence of disease and higher mortality.

Research supports the link between communication challenges and a smaller social network, decreased participation in social activities and increased loneliness. Furthermore, these communication challenges make it increasingly difficult for seniors to interact within communities, limit the number of communication partners and decrease opportunities for positive communication.

What is surprising is the growing prevalence of these concerns. In the United States, it has been estimated that 55% of all Medicare beneficiaries have a communication challenge of some kind. Additionally, a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) points out that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated — putting them at risk for dementia and other serious medical conditions.

With an increase in the prevalence of these medical conditions that may interfere with communication –such as hearing impairment, dementia, stroke, cancer of the head and neck, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and progressive neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) — there is likely to be even greater incidence of associated loneliness and social isolation.

Improved Communication Skills = Better Socialization

Since communication is central to the process of adjusting and adapting to the aging process, speech therapists play an important role in helping seniors to express themselves, live independently, pursue personal goals and interests, perform social roles and functions and maintain personal and familial relationships. Many report that improved communication skills enable them to make new friends.

Speech therapy stimulates increased understanding of what’s happening around the person and is proven to strengthen relationships between seniors and their loved ones. This means fewer misunderstandings, fewer arguments and more fun times together as a family. Speech therapy impacts daily life, advancing one’s ability to communicate with others in public settings — like restaurants or stores. 

Value of Virtual Speech Therapy

Online speech therapy for seniors improves access to care, helping seniors to more rapidly achieve their communications goals. As a result, they can look forward to maintaining or regaining social relationships and avoid feeling lonely or isolated. Great Speech’s virtual speech therapy solution also offers the following benefits:

  • Addresses transportation issues associated with travel to a brick-and-mortar clinic
  • No waiting time for an appointment
  • Opportunities to include caregivers or family members in therapy
  • Convenient option to receive care from the comfort of home
  • Appointment flexibility that minimizes burdens for working families
  • Coverage for in-network services provided under Medicare Advantage or commercial health plans. 

Help a family member, friend or loved one to overcome social isolation.  To learn more about online speech therapy, contact Great Speech and schedule an introductory call today.