Jan 28, 2019 by Michele Berman
When we think of loneliness, the image of a senior pops into our minds. As we grow older, loneliness becomes a large part of our lives because children grow up and move away, there is a break in the relationship between a parent or child or other health issues (e.g. depression). We all know that feeling “lonely” can lead to other unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating and heavy drinking. However, a recent study by Florida State University (FSU) has determined that loneliness has a connection to an increased risk of dementia in older adults over the age of 50. Also, the study revealed that all walks of life were affected by loneliness, and the amount of social activity had no bearing on it. Other risk factors had no effect on the amount of loneliness as well, including gender, race and education.
According to medicalnewstoday.com, the study was based on a Health and Retirement survey (a United States government-sponsored survey). This was a remarkable study because it had the largest sample ever (over 12,000 seniors) and follow-up span (10 years). The researchers studied the amount of loneliness and social isolation the seniors had as well as other factors (i.e. genetics). The result was a greater risk of dementia by a surprising 40%, with feelings of loneliness as the major risk factor. Those who experienced loneliness were more likely to have chronic health issues which can lead to dementia, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. There are physical and behavioral changes that are associated with being lonely, such as drinking and inflammation per Dr. Angelina Sutin, an author of the study and an associate professor in FSU’s College of Medicine.
Loneliness can develop due to being in a place, such as a nursing home. A senior can experience social isolation due to a physical limitation and can also be lonely due to not wanting to be part of his or her community. And loneliness increases when a person doesn’t get much contact from family or friends.
It’s important to note that loneliness is not the same as social isolation. A person can be socially isolated because of where they chose to live or the position the person has (or had). Thus, social isolation is an act. Loneliness is a feeling. A person feels lonely because he or she feels different, which causes him or her to not fit in with those around them. For example, a mother can feel lonely in a group of women who do not have children.
Loneliness can also occur when we don’t speak to another person directly (in person). Social media does not help us to have meaningful relationships. We can connect with people through Twitter or Facebook, but it is not a genuine connection because the recipients cannot see our facial expressions. And the fact that it’s much easier to just text someone can also make us feel lonely.
So, how can we combat loneliness? Here are some ways.
Since loneliness can be reduced, it’s called a modifiable risk factor. It should be considered a serious mental health issue because it is a dementia risk, like Alzheimer’s (see Alzheimer’s Society of America), since 42 million Americans report being lonely per the American Psychological Association. It’s vital that you acknowledge when you feel lonely and to do something about it to boost your brain health. We all have an internal need for social interaction. Some believe loneliness can be a subjective feeling as well as have a subjective experience of social isolation. However, your own situation with loneliness is unique and you should not compare your loneliness to another person’s. To learn more about the social needs of seniors, you can check out the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. They were the first journals to publish articles on aging. Series B are articles on the psychological issues associated with adulthood and old age.
If you are aren’t sure what actual social isolation is or have more questions about loneliness, you can check with your healthcare provider.
Providing In-home Care in Philadelphia County
Going on 20 years, we provide seniors the in-home care they need, such as respite care, interactive caregiving, Alzheimer’s care, grooming and more. We also make sure our seniors stay active and mobile as well as receive the compassion and dignity they deserve for an enhanced quality of life. Contact today us for a free in-home consultation!