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Loneliness and Isolation in Seniors: What You Need to Know

Loneliness and Isolation in seniors

While we may not understand the full ramifications of social isolation and loneliness on seniors, most would agree that older adults don’t do too well in isolation. After all, we are a social species, and we thrive on day-to-day interaction with others, a sense of community, and quality interpersonal relationships. Before we talk about social isolation and loneliness, it’s important to draw a distinction between the two. While they can affect one another, isolation and loneliness are separate things.

Social isolation refers to the size of an individual’s social network, or quantity as well as the quality. Reduced social interactions could translate to a number of health-related issues, an increased mortality rate, and adverse effects on mental health, as we will explore more below. Loneliness, or rather, perceived loneliness, can happen for seniors even if they have a large social network. While you don’t need to be socially isolated to be lonely, people with small to no social networks tend to experience loneliness at a much higher frequency. So, in other words, social isolation can exacerbate the problem of loneliness.

Let’s take a closer look at some facts about loneliness and social isolation and their effect on Seniors and aging adults.

Loneliness and Life Span

According to a study published in 2013, while loneliness did not have a significant impact on the mortality rate of aging adults, social isolation was associated with higher mortality. Feelings of loneliness seemed to go hand-in-hand with poor health and illnesses. However, the study suggests that the perceived feelings of loneliness may be due to health issues, indicating reverse causality between the two. It appears that social isolation has a substantial impact on overall health for seniors.  This could mean that seniors who don’t have family or friends who visit often could have symptoms of health issues and illnesses that go unnoticed or they don’t have help or transportation to seek medical treatment.

Social Isolation and Health

As we discussed above, there is a direct link between social isolation and poor health. According to research, social isolation may be linked to increases in blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases among seniors as well as an accelerated chance of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Another study found that the number of hospital visits for people who felt loneliness was much higher than seniors who were not. While numbers and percentages can fluctuate between different studies, it’s safe to say that social isolation and loneliness is a public health issue.

Quality over Quantity

Research has also found that despite the size of a senior’s social network, they can still feel rather lonely. In this day and age of technology where connecting with one another is easier than ever, the number of social connections may have increased, but the quality of those interactions has seen a decrease since the late nineties. Remember that perceived loneliness can be based on a number of factors, but the quality of one’s social interactions and the amount of quality relationships, such as family and close friends has a direct impact.

Protect Your Loved Ones

Now that we better understand the implications of social isolation as well as loneliness, what can you do to feel less lonely or help your loved one? Social isolation can happen for multiple reasons. A loss or death of a spouse, divorce, moving to a new area, and relocating to a care facility can all affect the level of quality social interactions for seniors. Activities such as gyms, clubs, or volunteer work are all great ways for seniors to have more healthy interaction with people and feel more involved in their community. Human nature stipulates that social interaction is not only important for one’s health, but it’s also vital.