When we consider the many health concerns that impact seniors, loneliness may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Loneliness affects mental health as well as physical health, however, the signs that a loved one is experiencing loneliness are not always obvious. With aging comes many factors that can contribute to feeling isolated or lonely, such as loss of family or debilitating illnesses. Unknown to many, loneliness can cause a number of other health conditions. In this blog, we are identifying the causes of loneliness in seniors, the signs to look out for, and the risks involved.
Causes of Loneliness in Seniors
- The loss of their spouse
- Children or grandchildren moving away
- A change in their living environment
- A decline in their social network (friends becoming ill)
- The fear of becoming a burden
- The fear of an accident or injury if they leave home
- Difficulty communicating from impaired hearing
- Illness (particularly dementia)
Each of these circumstances can result in isolation or loneliness for seniors, which can lead to a number of more serious illnesses.
Effects of Loneliness in Seniors
Reduced Physical and Mental Health
This may seem like the more obvious result, however, it speaks to the glaring impact of loneliness overall. Feeling lonely or isolated has a direct correlation to your mental and physical health. While some seniors are affected more than others, no individual is immune to the general mental and physical decline associated with loneliness.
Increased Risk of Mortality
Adults 52 and older experiencing loneliness or social isolation have an increased risk of mortality. This is directly related to the lack of self-care that occurs when feeling lonely or living in an isolated environment. Often, when living alone or lacking regular help at home, seniors can live with unrecognized illnesses, later leading to more serious medical conditions.
Cognitive Decline and Dementia
As mentioned above, loneliness has a direct impact on mental health, however, there are several negative effects that can occur. Loneliness in seniors can result in cognitive decline and other various forms of dementia. Studies have shown that older adults who feel socially isolated or lonely tend to perform worse on tests surrounding thinking abilities and processing information. Those who continue to feel lonely show more rapid decline year-over-year when taking the same test.
No matter the age, loneliness is accompanied by symptoms that often result in depression. These feelings include but are not limited to, sadness, pain, confusion and low self-worth. This is specifically heightened with seniors who are already living with mental health conditions.
High Blood Pressure and Long-Term Illness
While loneliness starts within the mind, when left untreated it can directly affect the body. Studies have shown that there is a connection between loneliness and high blood pressure, with patterns strongest in older adults. High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke, and many other health concerns, making living alone as a senior increasingly risky.
Symptoms of Loneliness in Seniors
If you are concerned that a loved one is experiencing loneliness, addressing the problem head on is the first step. Recognizing the symptoms of loneliness in seniors can help prolong life and general well-being. Some of the symptoms of loneliness include:
- Sadness or feelings of depression
- Loss of interest in hobbies, socializing, or daily activities
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Sleep disturbances and memory problems
- Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
- Neglect of personal hygiene and other routines
Among the many health concerns that can impact seniors, loneliness is one of the most common and least discussed. Whether your loved one is living at home or at a senior living facility, it is important to be aware of the signs so that you can support them and create positive change.