Humans are social beings and we need connection with and to each other to thrive. Study after study demonstrates that when we feel lonely or isolated, we have a higher risk for physical and mental conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and even death, according to information from the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
It’s the feeling of loneliness that seems to be most influential on our health, not necessarily that we’re strictly alone. Social isolation is the objective physical separation from other people (living alone), while loneliness is the subjective distressed feeling of being alone or separated, noted the NIA.
For instance, a study from the University of California-San Francisco revealed that while 43 percent of older adults felt lonely, only 18 percent lived alone.
Losing a sense of connection and community changes a person’s perception of the world. Someone experiencing chronic loneliness feels threatened and mistrustful of others, which activates a biological defense mechanism, explains Steve Cole, PhD, director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, to the NIA.
Conversely, people who have social support from family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems and live longer, researchers have found. In other words, this social support can be as essential as adequate sleep, a healthy diet and refraining from smoking to our overall health.
Senior Social Issues
But it’s not always easy to be social. Some seniors may find it difficult to be social if they are overwhelmed or if they have cognitive or physical limitations. For example, if an individual has decreased mobility, he or she may be reluctant to make plans to go out of the house, leading to isolation and loneliness.
The coronavirus pandemic has further complicated matters for seniors as they are forced to isolate. Many seniors have reported feeling more intense loneliness during this time.
If you see a client, family member or friend withdrawing or struggling to be social, it is a crucial time to suggest getting help. Finding solutions to support social connections may improve their overall health and wellbeing.
Life Managers & Associates’ goal is to enable aging in place by supporting the six areas of independence including our need to be connected to others. We help clients to feel safe and supported while remaining in their home — saving money and alleviating stress for all.