Loneliness in the lives of older people has been a controversial topic over the last two years. During the pandemic, many assisted living and senior living facilities went into an extended lockdown period. Older adults living at home were advised to shelter in place, avoid making trips out, and severely limit in-home visitors.
Many media outlets touted online communications such as FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or social media to stay connected with friends and family. However, many older people didn’t have access to these types of technologies. Even if they did, nothing could ever replace the warm embrace of a loved one – leaving them feeling lonelier than ever.
Public health restrictions have been slowly lifting, but that doesn’t mean we should stop being concerned with social isolation in our older population. In fact, the problem has been around for a long time; the pandemic only shined a spotlight on the severe health effects that loneliness can have on an older person’s length and quality.
Here are some of the more notable health effects of loneliness and social isolation in older adults:
The risk of contracting physical ailments increases
According to a recent study, loneliness can cause the stress hormone cortisol to be released into your body. Cortisol can impact your cognitive performance, impair your immune system, and put you at greater risk of vascular problems, inflammation, and heart disease.
Unhealthy habits can develop
When people are lonely, they tend to exercise less and neglect their nutrition, opting to snack or consume “feel good” meals over food choices full of vitamins, minerals, and protein. People who dine alone often eat faster, which can increase their body mass index, waistline, blood pressure, and blood lipid levels. This increases the older person’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other dangerous health conditions.
There is an increased risk of dementia
Regular socialization exercises our brains and provides mental stimulation. Without adequate interaction with others, our mind tends to become less sharp, affecting our memory and cognitive abilities. This situation puts us at an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, for which there is no cure.
Our social circle can shrink
As we age, life changes seem to come more often. We retire from our careers, children grow up and move away, and spouses, neighbours, and friends may pass on. Slowly, the relationships we once relied on erode, leaving us with fewer people to talk to. Unless we find volunteering or other socialization opportunities, we might experience extreme loneliness and the adverse health effects that come with it.
Loneliness is emotionally challenging
When you want to spend time with other people but can’t, it can lead to an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Humans are social creatures who need regular interactions with others to help maintain feelings of self-esteem and belonging. Without social interaction, we risk having low self-worth, negative thinking, and feelings of despair.
Financial health can be impacted
Many older people who don’t have regular social interactions can fall victim to the wiles of “friendly strangers” on the phone or online. Financial fraudsters have victimized older adults for years because the lonely person is typically grateful for someone to interact with and will hesitate to hang up the phone or cut off online communication.
Existing health problems can become worse
When older people develop chronic health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, they often withdraw from social interactions and become homebound. The overall adverse effects of loneliness can compound these existing conditions, potentially making them worse.
One important factor that can contribute to social isolation in older adults is a lack of transportation. Even if the person wants to get out among people, they might be compelled to give up their car keys due to visual impairment, memory loss, arthritis, or other reasons. If they live outside of a major centre and lack access to a robust transit system, they can become isolated very quickly.
If you have an elderly loved one who feels lonely, always remember that there are specialized services available that can help counter these feelings and protect their overall health and well-being. All it takes is a single phone call to CareHop.
Quality in-home elder care services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton
We firmly believe that everyone has the right to live at home, especially as they get older. When feelings of loneliness affect your elderly loved one due to a lack of socialization, CareHop can help.
Our team of caregivers will keep your loved one happy and engaged with fun activities, light exercise, and casual companionship that will help them have a great day, every day. We can help with homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, and other important services that will enhance the well-being of the older adults in your life and bring joy and sunshine into their home every day while preserving their independence.
If you have any questions about our specialized home and elder care services, please reach out to us anytime for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you.