Humans are a social creature. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t consider themselves to be very outgoing or sociable, we still require human interaction to maintain our mental and even our physical health. Unfortunately, loneliness and social isolation are all too common among seniors, and this could be affecting their health and wellbeing.
Loneliness is simply the feeling of being alone and isolated, but the situations in which these feelings occur will vary from one person to the next. While one person might enjoy spending their evenings relaxing by themselves, another might feel lonely in this situation. Someone may also feel lonely despite being surrounded by people if that person doesn’t feel connected to anyone around them.
The dangers of loneliness
How does loneliness affect your health? Firstly, it puts us at greater risk of certain mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. This can also lead to potentially destructive coping habits such as alcohol and drug use, as well as other dangers such as suicidal thoughts. These conditions can also impact our quality of sleep, which again has knock-on effects on our mental and physical health.
Loneliness can physically cause changes in your brain and the pathways it forms. As well as contributing to the risk of depression and other mental health problems, this can also increase the likelihood of seniors developing neurodegenerative conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. For seniors with these illnesses, loneliness can worsen the symptoms and speed up the progression of the disease.
Loneliness is also linked with a variety of other health risks, including increased blood pressure and a greater risk of conditions such as heart disease and stroke. It can even impact your immune system, making you more likely to contract illnesses and infections. Overall, loneliness contributes to a greater risk of premature death.
How to combat loneliness among seniors
Since seniors are one of the groups with the most risk of loneliness and isolation, we should think about how we can support the older adults in our lives and communities. Here are a few simple things that can help:
- Call or visit your senior relatives frequently, particularly if they’ve moved to a senior living community away from their friends and family
- Encourage them to take part in classes and social activities. There are likely to be free groups and classes in your local community as well as plenty of activities in senior living
- Volunteer in your community to support local seniors, even if you don’t have any senior relatives yourself
- Talk to seniors and really listen to their needs to find out how you can help them
Senior living can be the better option for some seniors if their family has moved away and many of their friends have passed away. Independent and assisted living communities do plenty of things to facilitate socialization among their residents. Find out more about assisted living at Brookstone of Woodruff.