Effects of Loneliness on Health in Seniors

Can you die from loneliness or social isolation? It turns out you can. Due to the negative health effects associated with loneliness, social isolation often follows. It’s prevalent among senior citizens living alone. They not only suffer from mental ailments but also physical ones. It can prove a lethal combination if not taken care of beforehand.

There are several contributing factors as to why loneliness is potentially dangerous. Senior citizens who are socially isolated are at higher risk of health-related problems, such as depression and cognitive decline. Here is what you need to know about the possible effects’ loneliness can have on senior citizens.

Effect #1 – Higher Risk of Mortality

According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), research suggests a correlation between loneliness and an increased risk of mortality. Their study shows how social isolation and loneliness can lead to a specific set of circumstances which enable poor health among older adults.

For example, if a senior citizen lives all by themselves, their lack of social interaction makes it unlikely for them to get medical treatment. Due to a decrease in mental cognition, seniors might not even realize they’re displaying symptoms of an illness. Since there isn’t anyone who can alert them, seniors are left in their respective conditions.

Seniors fare better in retirement centres where they have caretakers. However, the quality of the caretakers can vary. A senior with friends and family can hold a strong bond; it allows the latter to figure out something is wrong if the seniors are not acting like their usual selves.

Effect #2 – Decline of Physical and Mental Health

The PNAS did another study on the relationship between isolated seniors and their overall health. Loneliness is a detrimental factor to both the physical and mental condition of older people. There are a few reasons as to why this happens.

A loss of motivation can lead to a lack of exercise. Although the body starts to break down during advanced age, you can still maintain it at a healthy level. For seniors who are clinically depressed from lacking social interactions, it proves to be difficult. In their minds, there is no reason for them to be in shape if nobody else is there to watch them.

Mentally speaking, a lack of family and friends can lead to severe depression. Cognitive decline often happens in lonely seniors simply because they lack social activities to keep their brain moving. If they have someone to talk to, it goes a long way to keeping themselves mentally astute.

Both physical and mental decline is a result of social isolation. As the PNAS proves in their studies, there is a negative correlation which cannot be overlooked. Healthy seniors are often ones with friends and family to talk to on a regular basis.

Effect #3 – Dementia

Brigham and Women’s Hospital did a study on cognitive decline, specifically dementia. It turns out lonely seniors are 20% more likely to develop dementia at a rapid pace. As previously noted, if mental faculties are not regularly used, seniors can potentially reduce their overall brain functions, including problem-solving skills and long-term memory.

Dementia interferes with daily activities due to symptoms like memory loss. More often than not, it can eventually lead to Alzheimer’s. Dementia affects everyone differently, but one of the more common reasons to get it is losing nerve cells.

The University of Chicago did another study on social isolation, which proves loneliness is a major risk factor for dementia. It becomes clear there is a connection between dementia and loneliness in senior citizens. Due to a decline in cognitive thinking, they can be prone to these negative health effects. Dementia is a debilitating disease which only worsens over time. It is for this reason alone that one must take precautions beforehand.

Effect #4 – High Blood Pressure

The loneliness effect on health is not only evident mentally but also physically. PNAS did another study on the relationship of loneliness with long-term illness. In particular, loneliness can predict an increase in higher blood pressure during later years. Due to a decline in physical health, seniors are at risk for various diseases such as kidney failure.

High blood pressure is also known as hypertension. Symptoms are generally unnoticeable, but seniors should see a doctor if they have blood pressure above the 140/90 range. If left untreated, it can result in death through a heart attack or stroke. One of the best ways to reduce it, besides a good diet, is reducing loneliness through physical means. Through motivation by daily social interactions, seniors have more reason to go out and exercise.

Effect #5 – Severe Depression

Depression is one of the most obvious signs of loneliness, especially in a senior without friends or family to interact with. When you only have yourself to talk to, it can be a distressing experience. Among the symptoms of depression include pain, sadness, numbness, and low self-esteem. When you combine all these factors, it can cause a senior to give up on life.

Loneliness is a major contributor to overall depression. Even if a senior has friends and family to speak to, they might withdraw due to the side effects of depression. Self-imposed isolation is not unheard among those with severe depression. They no longer feel like themselves.

To break the vicious cycle, one must find someone to talk to about their problems. Loneliness and depression feed off each other, with symptoms that worsen as the days go by. If left untreated, a senior can potentially lose their ability to function normally in the real world.

Loneliness is Dangerous – You Can Help Prevent It

The negative impact of loneliness on health cannot be understated. Social isolation and possible health consequences of loneliness are not a good combination in seniors, since they can develop several problems in the last years of their lives. Loneliness and isolation effects include a decline in physical and mental capability. From high blood pressure to depressive episodes, it compromises the quality of life for seniors. It’s important for them to have someone to talk to. Otherwise, they can become victims to several diseases brought on by loneliness and social isolation.

 The negative effects of loneliness among older adults can be avoided as long as seniors can communicate with their friends or family. Depending on the area they live, there need to be opportunities available for them to socialize. For example, bingo tourneys in retirement centres are a good place to start. Seniors need a reason to stay healthy, and social interactions are a good method.

Another thing they can try is eating healthy foods and regular exercise. As long as there is someone to hold them accountable, they can gain the motivation they need to stay in shape. At the very least, they can maintain their physical and mental health. Give them daily social activities, so they have something to do. It can range from book clubs to cooking meals.

Loneliness is a negative influence for any age group, whether young or old. Nonetheless, it’s important to maintain a social network to combat the disease. Humans are social creatures by their very nature, and seniors are no different. Prevent the negative effects of loneliness on seniors by building these connections.

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