Posted on Feb 6, 2020 in Senior Health
We all feel a bit lonely sometimes. But we usually overcome the feeling in a short space of time and think nothing of it once it has passed.
The effects loneliness and social isolation have on the elderly, on the other hand, can be much more severe and difficult to combat. They can even lead to serious health concerns and challenges.
Let’s have a closer look at how loneliness affects seniors and what we can do to help them.
Although they might sound similar, the two terms are, in fact, very different.
A senior is considered isolated when they live alone, don’t have close relatives, and don’t leave the house. They have no visitors or neighbors nearby and are alone for the majority of the day.
On the other hand, loneliness is characterized by a desire to have more friends, a feeling you don’t see friends and family enough. It entails feeling that you’re not meeting enough people and are probably spending a lot of the holidays alone.
Seniors can be isolated but not lonely, and feel lonely even though they are not isolated.
While these issues are not one and the same, and may have different impacts on a senior’s health, here are the most common risks and health concerns they can cause:
With Alzheimer’s disease still being one of the most common forms of dementia and one of the leading causes of death among the elderly, it’s crucial that we educate ourselves further about the disease. We need to focus on preventing its underlying causes, such as loneliness, as much as we can.
Physical activity is crucial for keeping the heart and lungs healthy, and those among the elderly who are lonely often don’t leave their homes for days and don’t move nearly enough.
This lack of exercise and an extremely sedentary lifestyle contribute to the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and other cardiac-related issues.
Spending a lot of time alone can lead to poor choices such as smoking, alcohol abuse, poor eating habits, and a general lack of mobility, as we’ve already mentioned.
Not only that, but loneliness and social isolation can also contribute to arthritis, impaired mobility, lung disease, and a general functional decline.
Loneliness and a feeling of isolation are also a contributing factor to depression and other mental health challenges, especially in the elderly. When alone, the mind can feed on its own negative thoughts without anyone keeping it in check. And that’s precisely the feeding ground on which depression and anxiety thrive.
A study has shown that both loneliness and isolation contribute to a higher overall risk of mortality in adults aged 52 and above.
When we consider the fact that social interaction, exercise, a healthy diet, quality sleep, and an overall feeling of contentment are all contributing factors to a long and healthy life, it’s clear to see just how detrimental loneliness can be to a senior citizen.
Luckily, modern technology has made it easier than ever to communicate, stay in touch, and help out a senior member of the family, even if you don’t live nearby.
The first thing you can do is teach them how to use a simple voice or video chat application, and make sure you and other members of the family, as well as their friends, stay in touch as often as they can. Even though they might not be able to see you in the flesh, they will still feel better after a conversation.
If your senior has trouble getting around, find them a transportation system that can still enable them to get out of the house and enjoy some social interaction. Whether this is taking them to an event, a family get-together, or to any other activity of their choice, encourage them to stay active and participate in their community.
There are plenty of senior group exercise programs, volunteering programs, and other activities you can help them sign up for. Just make sure they’re able to make it to the event at the appointed time.
Of course, you can also consider a senior living community, where they will be encouraged to interact with others, get out and about as much as their health allows them, and won’t have to feel isolated or lonely again.
We often forget to lend a helping hand to our elders when they need it most. Just because they are healthy and able to live on their own doesn’t mean they’re not feeling lonely and isolated. Getting older is no walk in the park, so doing every little bit you can on your part will certainly make a significant difference in someone’s life.