Loneliness and Its Impact on Senior’s Health and Wellbeing 

Amongst the many facets of aging, one that is not discussed openly is loneliness. With increasing age, seniors tend to have feelings of isolation due to retirement, loss of loved ones, and lesser social interactions. The prevalence of loneliness in seniors is increasing as a growing percentage of families are opting for a nuclear family setting.

Do you know that in the United States, approximately 43 percent of adults (aged 60 and above) report feeling lonely? As the ratio of senior population is increasing every year, the issue of loneliness in seniors is expected to become more prevalent. Undoubtedly, chronic social isolation has a negative impact on seniors’ mental and physical health.

Our seniors comprise a significant ratio of our population, which is why it is essential to ensure their mental health and well-being. We need to learn to identify the early signs of loneliness in seniors care and attention before the condition worsens. We also need to adopt and implement smart strategies that can help to prevent loneliness in seniors.

Signs of Loneliness in Seniors

Seniors who live alone don’t need to end up feeling lonely. On the contrary, seniors who might be living with their families may also feel lonely. This can happen because of the generation gap and their lack of real connection with family members.

Nevertheless, to address the issue, it is important to first look for and identify the signs of loneliness in older adults. Socially isolated seniors often experience the following:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or despair
  • Socially withdrawn behavior and unwillingness to participate in conversations
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to like
  • Experiencing poor sleep and memory problems
  • Feeling helpless and not motivated
  • Unexplained body aches and pains
  • Neglect of personal hygiene and daily routines

If you believe your elderly loved one has been experiencing one or more of the above symptoms for some time now, they may be silent sufferers of loneliness. They may never ask for it, but they need your help!

Impact of Loneliness on Seniors’ Physical and Mental Health

Aging and social isolation can be a bad combination as the latter has negative health effects for seniors. Loneliness in seniors takes a toll on their physical and mental health. According to several studies that have studied the physiological pathways of loneliness, the following impacts of loneliness have been observed in seniors.

Impact on Physical Health

Cardiovascular health

According to a statement by the American Heart Association, a study has proved that social isolation and loneliness in seniors can increase the risk of a cardiac arrest or stroke by 30% This happens because chronic loneliness can lead to harmful behavioral changes such as physical inactivity, smoking and disrupted sleep, all of which can influence the senior’s cardiovascular health.

Weakened Immune System

Chronic loneliness can affect our bodily function by altering the tendency of cells in the immune system to promote inflammation. This usually happens as a biological defense mechanism to recover from an injury. However, inflammation that lasts longer than usual leads to the development of chronic diseases.

Blood pressure

Several studies have shown that chronic feeling of loneliness increases the rate of elevated blood pressure in seniors. For instance, a research paper that was published in Nature and a study published in Psychol Aging have revealed that chronic loneliness leads to stiffer blood vessels. While not immediate, this negative impact on the body is observed over time.

Impact on Mental Health

Cognitive decline

Several studies led by a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago have revealed that loneliness contributes to poor cognitive performance and accelerates the cognitive decline of seniors. This happens because seniors who are socially isolated do not perform cognitive-stimulating activities. Chronic senior isolation can also increase the risk of the onset of dementia by 50%.

Depression and Anxiety

As loneliness results in feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and low self-esteem, it may contribute to the onset of depression or aggravate the condition in seniors who already suffer from depression. A lack of socially stimulating activities also results in a loss of self-worth and leads to anxiety.

How Can you Help Seniors Combat Loneliness? 

loneliness in seniors

It is our collective responsibility to help our aging population live a better quality of life. We need to start doing so by breaking the stigma associated with loneliness and aging. Together, as a family we need to openly discuss the issue of social isolation that is prevalent in seniors and discuss ways to overcome chronic loneliness in seniors.

Here are some ways that you can try to help your seniors overcome and fight their battle of loneliness in seniors:

Encourage participation in volunteering activities

Seniors should never be underestimated for their skills. Their wisdom and insight can prove to be very useful in organizing volunteering activities. We should encourage them to contribute their skills and experience to a good cause. The act of volunteering would help them to achieve fulfillment as well as offer them a chance to meet new people.

Technology Interaction and Socialization

It is a great idea to introduce seniors to new communication channels based on technology. Current communication mediums such as social media and video calls can bridge the gap between seniors and their distant loved ones. Older people can also join online communities that consist of individuals of different age groups who share similar interests. This can promote healthy intergenerational interaction.

Community engagement

Seniors can also benefit by participating in their local community’s clubs, meetings and events. For instance, they can become a member of their community’s fitness club. They can also pick up a new hobby and learn a new skill by joining a club. This can help foster social connections and offer opportunities for social engagement and interactions with other members of the community.

Involvement of Family and Friends

It is important that we, as family and friends, do not ignore our senior’s issue of loneliness. We need to prioritize the issue and pay attention to their emotional needs. We can do so by regularly reaching out to them and maintaining ties of communication through video calls and physical visits. While communicating with them, it is also important to ensure active listening so that their opinions are heard with interest. We should also try to engage them in interesting topics that are relatable to them.

Creation of Age-Friendly Spaces

Specific initiatives should be implemented by the government to create age-friendly spaces and communities that break the intergenerational barrier and allow seniors to stay connected. For instance, both government and private sectors should focus on creating senior-friendly malls, parks and other recreational facilities. Ideally, these should ease mobility issues that seniors commonly face when they go outside their homes.

Supporting Seniors with a Caregiver

While socially withdrawn seniors are capable of doing their daily tasks independently, they do require the presence of a vetted caregiver in their life. In this scenario, a caregiver acts as a companion who listens to and understands their needs, engages them in active discussions, and motivates them to eat well and stay healthy.

The impact of loneliness on seniors is a multifaceted challenge that requires a comprehensive and compassionate response. By acknowledging the prevalence of loneliness and understanding its physical and emotional consequences, we can actively implement strategies to foster social connections for our seniors. We should aim to work towards creating a society where our seniors can age with dignity, purpose, and companionship. The silent struggle of loneliness among seniors is a call to action for individuals, communities, governments, and private organizations to prioritize the well-being of our aging population. As a pioneer in private in-home care for seniors, Assured Home Nursing has taken a stride to tackle the issue of loneliness in seniors with understanding and empathy.

At Assured Home Nursing, we offer a range of personalized care services for your seniors including Companion Care, Personal Care, and 24 Hour Home Care. For instance, when you choose our Companion Care plan for your senior, you can rest assured that your seniors have a guiding hand and reliable companion who assists them with their day-to-day activities and emotional needs. Our caregivers understand the emotional and psychological needs of your seniors. They offer a helping hand to your seniors as well as motivate them to engage in physical and mental exercises that boost their health.


Sources

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5831910/

https://www.ncoa.org/article/navigating-social-isolation-and-loneliness-as-an-older-adult

https://www.stpaulseniors.org/senior-care-blog/the-negative-health-effects-of-loneliness-in-seniors/

At Assured Home Nursing, we offer care plans that are flexible and catered to meet your senior’s changing needs. To get comprehensive information about our care plans, call us at (248) 593-8134 and get in touch with our care representative.

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