Loneliness and Seniors

It’s a new year and we at The Julia Ruth House are more committed than ever (if that’s even possible) to help families understand and deal with issues such as senior loneliness, depression, and dementia in its many forms. Each month, we will tackle an issue we believe is critical to the health and well-being of aging loved ones as well as their caregivers. Follow us here on our blog and on our Facebook page.

Loneliness and Seniors
An Epidemic seldom discussed

Is there a senior in your life you are concerned about? Perhaps they are becoming increasingly isolated and you worry that he or she is lonely but you aren’t sure what to do. It’s not the easiest subject to bring up, especially when family members or loved ones are proud and don’t want to admit they’re feeling alone.

Perhaps no other age group feels the sting of loneliness more than the elderly, and it is a growing health concern among families and physicians. 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 study also found that isolated elders had a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline than their more social counterparts. In addition, a Dutch study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry revealed that people who feel lonely are significantly more likely to develop clinical dementia over a period of 3 years as compared to those who do not feel lonely.

And 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.
Seniors may also withdraw into isolation as a result of health conditions, depression or mental illness. Physical limitations such as fear of falling, fatigue, chronic pain, or shame over memory problems can keep seniors isolated as well.

Whether or not a senior in your life is lonely or socially isolated, this epidemic of loneliness is a society-wide problem that affects all of us. Have you ever been frustrated with an elderly person who holds up the check-out line while she chats with the checker? What if that’s the only conversation she’ll have all day – or all week? Experts say that as a society, we should be treating senior loneliness as the public health crisis it is, because of the profound effects loneliness can have on physical and mental health.

At The Julia Ruth House, we are familiar with the risks of loneliness. We are also familiar with the burden facing caregivers who have to work or who have children to raise. Caring for an aging parent or a spouse with physical or mental decline is not easy. In fact, it can be downright stressful. Caregiver stress can have a serious negative impact on the caregiver’s health, too. We’re here so you can take a break.

In our next blog, we’ll address caregivers and their needs.