Loneliness and the Older Adult by Kimberly Williams, MSW, LCSW
According to AgingCare.com here are some of the more recent findings regarding loneliness and aging. Americans
• 18 percent of seniors live alone, while 43 percent report feeling lonely on a regular basis, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
• Lonely seniors are more likely to decline and die faster. The aforementioned UCSF study also found that people 60-years-old and older who reported feeling lonely saw a 45 percent increase in their risk for death. Isolated elders also had a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline than their more social counterparts. •
• 1 in 7 people with Alzheimer’s disease live alone, according to a recently released report from the Alzheimer’s Association.
• Loneliness is contagious. Older adults who feel lonely are more prone to behave in ways that may cause other people to not want to be around them. Psychologists from the University of Chicago who analyzed data from the Farmingham Heart Study, a long-term, ongoing cardiovascular study, found that solitary seniors have a tendency to further isolate themselves by pushing people away and not making efforts to engage with others.
• According to Psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago (Psychology Today June 2003) has performed a several studies and reports that loneliness works in some surprising ways to compromise health.
• Perhaps most astonishing, in a survey he conducted, doctors themselves confided that they provide better or more complete medical care to patients who have supportive families and are not socially isolated.
• Living alone increases the risk of suicide for young and old alike. • Lonely individuals report higher levels of perceived stress even when exposed to the same stressors as non-lonely people, and even when they are relaxing.
• The social interaction lonely people do have are not as positive as those of other people, hence the relationships they have do not buffer them from stress as relationships normally do.
• Loneliness raises levels of circulating stress hormones and levels of blood pressure. It undermines regulation of the circulatory system so that the heart muscle works harder and the blood vessels are subject to damage by blood flow turbulence.
• Loneliness destroys the quality and efficiency of sleep, so that it is less restorative, both physically and psychologically. They wake up more at night and spend less time in bed actually sleeping than do the non-lonely.
So what can we do? Encourage older adults to attend Senior Centers; take an older adult out to eat or bring it to them and share a meal with them; provide transportation to church, community events, or to the grocery store; support caregivers – they need a break; get to know your older adult neighbors and create neighborhood support groups; encourage finding a purpose for the older adult; make use of technology; and most importantly, take time to visit. I think we could all benefit from the lost art of front porch sitting