Posted on Aug 13, 2020 in Senior Tips
Preventing loneliness in seniors is essential as studies have revealed isolation is ruinous for their health.
Loneliness is so dangerous to physical health that it’s even been compared to tobacco smoking as a threat to longevity.
It’s possible to be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. Equally, it’s possible to be alone and not feel lonely. Loneliness is defined as subjective loneliness. Subjective loneliness causes misery and suffering in everyone, particularly older people.
A lack of connectedness and a sense of purpose characterize loneliness.
Sadly, 33-44% of older Americans are lonely. Research has found that older adults have a high chance of loneliness once they turn 75.
The same research discovered, however, that if older adults maintain social contact, they can reduce the chances of illness caused by loneliness.
Unfortunately, social contact becomes less accessible over time as we approach old age. The death of a spouse or loved ones, moving to a senior living community, or reduced mobility can all increase the likelihood of loneliness.
Preventing loneliness in older people is our collective responsibility.
How, then, can we keep our elderly loved ones healthy and happy? How can we help those vulnerable people who live in isolation?
Chronically lonely people are vulnerable to:
We must monitor our seniors for signs of chronic loneliness. They could well be isolated if they’re neglecting their personal hygiene and their diet. They may also start hoarding.
Dr. Steve Cole PhD is a professor of medicine and psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine. His research has found that loneliness reduces immunity to viruses and diseases.
His 2017 study of the biology of loneliness shows that social isolation causes chronic illness. Plaque build-up in the arteries promotes the spread of cancer cells. It increases inflammation in the brain which can lead to Alzheimer’s.
Prolonged subjective loneliness causes a chemical change in the brain which can cause people to become un-trusting of others and negative about interactions with others.
What results is a vicious cycle. A chronically lonely person needs social contact but the perceived threat of others prevents them from reaching out.
Research has proven that loneliness triggers a decline in health due to inflammation. Dr Stephanie Cacioppo, PhD, discovered that the naturally produced steroid pregnenolone is decreased in chronically lonely people.
Pregnenolone calms the amygdala and insula.
These are parts of the brain responsible for social anxiety and negativity and the expectation of rejection. Pregnenolone is sometimes prescribed to people with schizophrenia or generalized anxiety disorder.
Dr Stephanie Cacioppo PhD is currently reviewing the results of her study on pregnenolone in lonely people. The hope is that a pill can be developed to help prepare lonely people who have become withdrawn to start to interact socially.
Emotional loneliness is caused by a lack of intimate relationships. Insufficient contact with friends, family, and the wider community is essential to prevent social isolation. Growing old means an increased likelihood of death and illness of friends and relatives. Grief will exacerbate loneliness related depression.
We often hear of older people passing away shortly after losing their life-long partner. The sudden loss of companionship and meaningful interaction can be devastating for an elderly person. Widowed seniors have a 48% increased chance of mortality.
The effect of significant illness on mobility can lead to social isolation if a senior doesn’t have a support network in place. Widows and widowers who are made to feel a valuable part of the community by their loved ones are less likely to suffer the misery of social isolation. This means they are more likely to stay healthy.
Relocating to a senior living community can also increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. The unfamiliar environment can contribute to stress, and it takes time to forge meaningful new friendships with other residents.
Health care providers have realized that they need to structure health care in a way that meets people’s needs.
The health care company Caremore launched the Togetherness Program. The program aims to encourage seniors to be more socially and physically active by providing access to activities they enjoy. The company also engages seniors with telephone outreach calls and home visits.
The initiative also hosts various events to encourage social interaction. Such programs will only reduce the loneliness of senior people if they succeed in providing quality, meaningful contact.
A 2008 study on widowed seniors found that support groups were effective in improving social interaction. Feelings of loneliness and despair were reduced as they promoted increased social interaction.
Investing in technology in a lonely senior’s home can help encourage them to interact more. Video-conferencing enables seniors to connect with their loved ones who live far away.
Voice-activated technology is useful for people with limited mobility. Seniors also benefit from learning to use technology. It encourages them to connect with others and find information even if they are house-bound.
The American Association of Retired People (AARP) has found that installing voice-activated technology in the homes of lonely seniors helps to improve their quality of life. They installed 170 Alexa devices as part of the Social Connectedness Voice-Activated Technology program. The process of learning to use the technology gives them a new sense of purpose. It also increases social interaction through peer learning.
Voice-activated technology can be used by seniors with limited mobility even if they’re not computer-literate. Users can get the answer to any question they have about social events, current affairs, music, or anything they are interested in. A digital assistant can even remind them to take their medication.
Seniors with limited access to transport or mobility problems can still interact with loved ones using video-conferencing software like Skype. CCTV technology can enable you to keep an eye on your loved one while you are not there in the form of wireless cameras.
If you’re serious about preventing loneliness in seniors, you might consider giving your elderly relative a tour of one of our senior living communities. Once your loved one sees the amount of interaction with others they could enjoy, they might rethink their decision to age in place. Call us today at Landmark Senior Living and we’ll be happy to arrange a tour.