Is it normal for the elderly to withdraw if they were once very social?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 26, 2016
Lorie12 asked...

My mother turned 88 in May. My husband and I spent all winter with her in her Colorado home. It was decided that she cannot be alone and before we got there she was not taking care of the house, eating very well, etc. I have moved her back to Minnesota in a senior community living facility. My mother was a social butterfly all her life until this past year. She kept cancelling on her friends to play bridge, go out to dinner etc and she continued that all winter while we were there. I thought it might be because of her unwillingness to drive and her friends were picking her up all the time and calling her to remind her of brdige, etc. Now that she is in a senior community she still will not socialize much other then at the meals. She won't play bingo, go to exercise class, but she will play bridge when they need her. I have asked her many times (her brother also) to go to lunch with me at the mall to get out and she says no. The only places she will go is to the doctor's office and the casino and I am the one that takes her to these places. Is this normal to withdraw from everything? Her friends in Colorado were fearful of her memory and were watching after her and checking on her a lot. She has had three major death losses in the last year also. All winter she kept saying, "Why am I alive?" or "I made it through another night." After not being around my mother consistently for 35 years, I am finding it very difficult to understand her ways now and her personaltiy changes. She was not much of a family person, grandmother to my kids, etc. and now I am taking care of her and she is completely trusting in my decisions even though she also made the decision to move to Minnesota but she wants to go back to Colorado. Her house is sold now and there is no one there to look after her; no family.

Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Reading through your question, I know that there are many reasons older people can socially withdrawal, and I will list them all in the end of this response.

Your mother sounds like she is really depressed, which can cause people to isolate themselves and become indecisive. Depression is common in older adults, as many experience loss of friends, spouses, and independence, which can be hard to deal with. The fact that she wants to go back to where she used to live is a sign to me that she misses her old life. Furthermore, when you undergo so much change, it is hard to move to a new place (no matter how great you think it is), make new friends, and be fun to hang around with.

What I would recommend is that you talk to her health care provider about her isolation and mood changes, and tell them that she might be depressed. There are great antidepressants now available that could really help improve the quality of her life.

Now, here are some of the things that went through my mind that can cause social withdrawal: 1) Depression: discussed above 2) Incontinence: this is an embarrassing problem. People with incontinence are afraid to be too far from home and not know where bathrooms are located. They also worry about accidents and odor. 3) Dementia: As memory loss worsens, many people will isolate themselves, as they often shy away from things that are new. They also lose the ability to communicate well, so they can sometimes prefer to be alone. 4) Loss of mobility: As one gets older, it can be harder to move around, even painful. If it is difficult to get around, many people will choose to stay at home, as it is easier. 5) Chronic pain or other diseases: If you have chronic pain or other diseases, you often feel too bad to go out. 6) Financial burdens: Many people live on fixed incomes, and to save money, they will stay at home. 7) Sensory loss: Poor hearing and/or vision loss makes communication and getting around difficult.

Hope this helps!