Loneliness among seniors can lead to serious health risks

Human beings are social by nature. As we age, however, those connections can unfortunately diminish. The impact can be far more than loneliness – social isolation can also lead to increasing health risks.

Health risks of social isolation

Social isolation among raises seniors is an increasing malady and one that can have serious consequences. In addition to being associated with a higher risk of premature death, including increased rates of suicide, recent studies have found that loneliness among raises seniors’ significantly raises their risk of devasting

illnesses:

  • 50% increased risk of dementia
  • 29% increased risk of heart disease
  • 32% increased risk of stroke1

Among seniors already dealing with heart failure, social isolation was associated with a four times greater risk of death, 57% increase in ER visits, and a 68% increased risk of hospitalization.

The side effects of loneliness

Whether due to lack of stimulation or lack of external oversight, or both, seniors can be more vulnerable to illness than their more socially active counterparts. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the genes that regulate inflammation were more active while the genes that help fight viral infections were more depressed in those respondents who indicated more isolation; this would leave people who were socially isolated more prone to inflammation and less able to fight off infection. Could this be why lonely seniors appear to be more susceptible to physical and mental conditions such as heart disease, depression, cognitive decline, etc., and show higher death rates than their peers?  The decline in cognitive health is perhaps the most potentially devasting effect of loneliness. Studies have shown that the rate of Alzheimer’s disease is nearly double in subjects who were more insolated, as was the rate of decline. Elder abuse rates were also noted to be higher among isolated seniors.

Never underestimate the health benefits of a good cup of tea

So how can you help a senior friend, relative or neighbor stay healthier during their golden years? Something as simple as inviting your elderly neighbor over for tea or helping them in the garden can lessen feelings of isolation and loneliness. Even from a distance, calling or Skyping with a faraway senior relative on a regular basis can have profound effects and create valuable social connections. Social service programs, such as Meals On Wheels, can also help by pairing nutritious meals with essential social interactions3 as can volunteering and getting involved in peer groups.

We’re here to help

We are always here – for you, your family, and your health. Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.

Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions Last accessed: August 12, 2020
  2. A Place for Mom: Facts About Senior Isolation and the Effects of Loneliness That Will Stun You Last accessed: August 12, 2020
  1. The Atlantic: How Loneliness Wears on the Body Last accessed: August 12, 2020
  2. National Institute on Aging (NIH): Social Isolation, Loneliness in Older People Pose Health Risks Last accessed: August 12, 2020

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