Feelings of loneliness, depression and social isolation are a key risk to seniors aging successfully. As we age we not only lose spouses, family members and friends, we also lose our ability to drive and get out of the house on our own. The difficulty of maintaining and making new relationships and being actively involved in community often causes loneliness and sadness.
However, what's becoming more apparent in recent research, is that social isolation and loneliness not only impacts the happiness of seniors, it also impacts their physical health. One study showed that socially isolated seniors are 30% more likely to die within 6 years and 30% more likely to be admitted to a nursing home.
So what are the dangers of loneliness and social isolation?
1. Social isolation kills!
Seniors who are socially isolated from friends, family and community organizations, have a significantly higher risk of mortality according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Other studies have shown that loneliness increases the risk of early death twice as much as obesity!
2. Loneliness causes dementia
Seniors who feel lonely are more likely to suffer from memory loss, dementia and alzheimer's according to one dutch study. In this case it didn't matter if the person was socially isolated, so much as if they felt lonely. You can be in a sea of people and still feel alone. Humans need meaningful social interaction - its absence results in cognitive decline.
3. Social isolation is linked to chronic disease
We often focus on whether social isolation causes chronic disease. However the question of whether chronic disease causes social isolation is just as relevant, especially for seniors. The answer is sickness also causes social isolation. "The quality of our social ties plays a role when it comes to coping with the effects of serious disease in later life. And just having a partner around may not be enough,” said Meaghan Barlow.
4. Loneliness can cause depression
Loneliness can trigger clinical depression among seniors. Aside from feeling sad, depression can cause seniors to stop taking care of their health, stop exercising and stop eating, causing even further social isolation.
5. Loneliness can cause heart disease
According to one Harvard study, loneliness can be as high a risk factor for heart disease as smoking! Yes, you heard that right. If you want a healthy heart, research now proves that maintaining relationships and creating new ones is a good strategy. Of course that doesn't mean you get to ignore healthy exercise and a good diet!
6. Loneliness can weaken your immune system
Researches have noticed that the white blood cells in lonely people cause inflammation over long periods of time. The human body is not designed to have a high white blood cell count for a long period of time. Sustained inflammation has been linked to everything from cancer to viral infections and neurological decline.
Loneliness and social isolation are bad for aging. They're bad for your physical and mental well-being. To avoid loneliness and social isolation join community or faith based organization and take part in their activities, exercise at the gym in group classes, go to concerts, movies and plays, go to weekly family dinners, work, volunteer, get a dog, go to your grand children's sporting events, talk to friends and family on the phone or through video chat or consider moving to a managed care facility.