Everybody feels lonely sometimes, including you.
An average person would experience the adverse effects of loneliness through varying degrees of stress, memory problems, and depression.
But did you know it’s more detrimental to the elderly and their health soon after they experience loneliness?
This feeling doesn’t even directly correspond to living alone.
The analysis of a research team from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) found 43 percent of surveyed elderly felt lonely, but merely 18 percent of them lived alone.
It could be your parents, uncles and aunts, and your grandparents.
Why should you prevent it from happening to them?
According to research conducted by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the elderly who endure social isolation and loneliness are highly at risk of having several severe physical and mental health conditions.
Loneliness is also a factor in death in the elderly.
According to Carla Perissinotto, MD, MHS, assistant professor in the UCSF Division of Geriatrics, “it’s intriguing to find that loneliness is independently associated with an increased rate of death and functional decline.”
Many possible risks are resulting from loneliness. Here listed below are some physical and mental health conditions proven by the study conducted by NIA.
Physical health risks of loneliness to older adults
High blood pressure
There is a relationship between isolation and high blood pressure in seniors.
Back in 2006, researchers at the University of Chicago discovered that lonely people have blood pressure readings that are as much as 30 points higher than those who aren’t alone.
Please take note that high blood pressure in older adults is now generally 130/80 or higher, whereas it was 140/90 before. This statistic is on the updated guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology in 2017.
According to Mayo Clinic, if our elderly loved ones have uncontrolled high blood pressure, causing the hardening and thickening of arteries, it may lead to other complications such as heart attack or stroke.
Even though it is a commonly unrecognized cardiac risk factor, loneliness in the elderly can increase the likelihood of having a cardiovascular disease.
There are various types of heart disease. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is one of the most common conditions.
Keck Medicine of USC briefly defines CHD as the plaque buildup in the heart’s arteries that limit blood flow.
Like high blood pressure, heart disease can also lead to heart attacks in the elderly.
Weakened immune system
According to research funded by NIA and headed by Steve Cole, Ph.D., director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, feelings of loneliness in older adults may alter the tendency of cells in their immune system to promote inflammation, which is necessary to help our bodies heal from injury.
It might sound good but according to Dr. Cole, inflammation that lasts too long will increase the risk of the elderly having chronic diseases.
He also mentioned that those who are lonely may also have weakened immune cells. This means that your elderly loved one’s immune system will have trouble fighting off viruses making him or her susceptible to some grave infectious diseases.
Right now, the COVID-19 pandemic is still a major health risk to the elderly.
It should really push you to make necessary changes to help proactively combat your senior parent’s feelings of loneliness.
Mental health risks of loneliness to the elderly
Anxiety and depression
A Helpguide.org article stated that loneliness factors such as living alone, a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation, decreased mobility due to illness or a loss of driving privileges can trigger depression in older adults.
Beware of medication that can cause your senior parent’s depression to worsen.
Memory decline and Alzheimer’s disease
A research that examined 8,300 adults age 65 or older over a period of 12 years concluded that people who were lonely experienced a 20 percent faster rate in cognitive decline than people who weren’t lonely. The study was presented back in 2015 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington, D.C.
Their researchers claimed to have discovered that loneliness can be a key predictor of the fast progression of dementia-related diseases in older adults.
With these serious health conditions in mind, what simple steps can you do to rescue your elderly loved ones from loneliness?
3 tips to help elderly conquer loneliness
Your elderly loved one can feel lonely due to various reasons such as an illness or disability, social isolation, death of their spouse, close friends or pet, or even through feelings of weakness.
Rescue and overcome your senior parent from loneliness with these three practical tips.
1. Stay in touch.
As long as it is safe and allowed by local health guidelines, schedule a regular visit with them.
It is still applicable and especially needed if you’re staying under one roof. Spend more time having meaningful conversations with your elderly loved one.
Please encourage them to engage in meaningful, productive activities with you. Find out about their hobbies. Learn about what they like or some new hobby or skill they would be interested in trying to learn with you.
This kind gesture, paired with some fun hobbies or activities, will add to their sense of purpose and improve their social wellbeing.
2. Boost their mood with healthy food and exercise.
Something as simple as doing daily stretches or light walking will help boost your elderly loved one’s mood.
Elderly food shouldn’t be bland and boring. Check the recommended diet and plan to add nutritious meals and drinks.
Experiment on brightly colored vegetables, happy hormone boosting foods like legumes, wild turkey, fish, bananas, and dark chocolate, if permitted. Just make sure everything is well-balanced for your senior loved one.
The key here is to maintain their well-being and improve their cognitive function. Help our loved ones to feel and become healthier so they could be less vulnerable and more capable of dealing with signs of loneliness and depression.
3. Create new and lasting friendships through Infinite Love Homecare.
A New York Times article emphasized friendship as the antidote to the debilitating effects of loneliness. It’s supported by a systematic analysis of the benefits of group interventions, support, and activities, such as a foster grandparent program.
Our compassionate and highly trained Infinite Love Homecare (ILH) providers consider your elderly loved one’s social life as a strategy to decrease their cardiac risk. We ensure our personal care services through loving companionship will help your senior parent’s psychosocial wellbeing. Infinite Love caregivers not only serve our elderly clients; we also make sure we make them feel they have a family with us.
ILH home caregivers can also assist in setting up digital connections between you and your elderly loved one so you can keep in touch.
Take all of this information about the severe health risks of loneliness in seniors to heart and take action immediately!