Facts About Senior Loneliness

Apr 15th, 2020 | By | Category: Senior Moments Blog

The COVID19 Pandemic offers valuable opportunity to look at social isolation and loneliness, and the effects these phenomena have on seniors. SCJ already looked at kinds and causes of social isolation, an overview of the dangers of loneliness and an overview of the health risks of senior isolation. Today we will delve more into major effects loneliness and isolation have on senior citizen health and well being.

Scientific research on this issue goes back several decades. About ten years ago (2010), John T. Cacioppo and Louise C. Hawkley conducted research on perceived isolation (loneliness) and the effects it has on a number of health issues. They discovered “…that perceived social isolation (i.e. loneliness) is a risk factor for, and may contribute to, poorer overall cognitive performance, faster cognitive decline, poorer executive functioning, increased negativity and depressive cognition, heightened sensitivity to social threats…” The full NIH article can be found here.

Decline and Death

In 2015, a study conducted by Nancy Donovan, MD, an Associate Psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston discovered ” Baseline loneliness was associated with a 20% faster rate of cognitive decline over 12 years, independent of sociodemographic factors, social network, health, and baseline depression, compared with participants who were not lonely.” (cited from the article) What this means is that seniors experience cognitive decline (memory and brain issues) at a 20% faster rate if they are lonely and/or isolated.

A very recent article from the National Institute On Aging says this: “Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressureheart diseaseobesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depressioncognitive declineAlzheimer’s disease, and even death. The ‘linking’ between loneliness and physical disease shows a causative effect in much of the research. Researchers know it is causative because they structure the study to eliminate all other possible causes of the issue they are studying.

Loneliness effects our physical bodies, illustrating the close relationship between mental/emotional health and physical health. Dr Steve Cole (University of California, Los Angeles) says, “Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases. The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness promotes several different types of wear and tear on the body.”

We must take senior loneliness and isolation seriously. The lives of our elder population depend on it.

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