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 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 stroke
Among seniors already dealing with heart failure, social isolation was associated with a four times greater risk of death, a 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 interactions as can volunteering and getting involved in peer groups.
We’re here to help
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