How loneliness is bad for your health and what it may be costing you and your loved ones.
Did You Know:
- Loneliness can increase the risk of dementia by up to 40%.
- Social isolation increases risk of death as much as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
- Lack of socialization reduces life expectancy more than either physical inactivity or obesity.
It’s true. And these are far from the only alarming side effects. Multiple studies confirm that seniors who feel lonely or isolated are at risk of a series of physical, emotional and spiritual implications that can impact well being and longevity.
We’ve all experienced the debilitating impact of loneliness at one time or another, but we’re only just beginning to understand just how far-reaching the impact of loneliness can be.
Chronic loneliness and lack of social stimulation can result in changes to the cardiovascular, immune and nervous systems, increase in ‘stress’ hormones like cortisol and epinephrine resulting in shorter life spans (up to 26%), increased inflammation, fatigue, and a greater chance of infection, heart disease, and infections. These issues are even more profound for at-risk populations, like seniors.
For today’s seniors, this dangerous lack of socialization is far from uncommon. The recent National Poll on Healthy Aging, conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation confirmed the negative impact experienced by seniors who live alone or with family outside of a community of their peers, including:
- More than 40% of seniors regularly report feeling lonely
- 60 percent reported feeling a lack of companionship
- 41 percent felt isolated by their life circumstances
This may sound daunting, but there is good news - according to A University of California San Diego study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry - seniors with adequate social support and involvement report improved physical health, cognitive function, and life satisfaction.
The challenges of social interaction for seniors
For the average senior living alone or with family, continuous social interaction can be challenging, and the demands on caregivers mean they may struggle to provide sufficient social opportunities.
Common struggles include:
- physical ailments
- grief over the loss of a spouse or loved ones
- mobility or logistical problems
- transportation issues
- cognitive decline
- lack of assistance to take advantage of opportunities
There is one key choice that can mitigate almost all of the common challenges— the choice to reside in a Senior Living Community.
In fact, in a recent year-long study, it was discovered that after moving into a Senior Living Community, 69% of residents reported improved overall social wellness.
Those benefits were not simply limited to how residents rated their social interactions, the study showed conclusively that community residents fared better on measures of emotional, social, physical, intellectual and vocational wellness and documented more observably healthy behaviors than their peers who live outside of a senior living community.
It’s not just about bingo.
So, why does the built-in socialization of a Senior Living community provides so many benefits?
Simply put, healthy socialization is exercise for the brain, and the results are far-reaching, impacting seniors mentally, physically and emotionally!
When involved in regular, planned social activities, seniors continue to utilize many cognitive skills that may decrease or diminish without such opportunities and avoid many of the difficulties that often arise through isolation.
10 traits of the socially active senior living resident
Seniors who remain socially active have a better ability to handle stress, which in turn impacts cardiovascular health and a stronger immune system.
The studies are clear, seniors who stay active with groups of their peers live longer.
Residents in a Senior Living community are more likely to exercise more regularly, and we all know that exercise comes with a host of benefits from physical to mental (and everything in between).
Built-in opportunities for regular social interaction reduces the chances that residents will fall prey to depression or anxiety caused by isolation and loneliness.
Improved Self Esteem:
Social interaction, including opportunities for volunteer work or community involvement, aids residents in maintaining their sense of self-esteem and self-worth
Consistent interaction keeps residents stimulated, mentally sharp and engaged intellectually, preventing decline such as memory loss, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
Improved Purpose and Belonging:
Making new friends and improving bonds happens naturally when seniors are taking part in activities they love with others in their age group who have the same interests.
Knowledge of Current Events:
Actively engaged seniors retain an increased knowledge of current events compared with their non-social peers. This helps them remain connected to the world at large.
Regular opportunities for social interaction, particularly when they involve giving back to the community, volunteering, teaching or highlight a residents vocational or natural gifts and skills can provide increased motivation and help seniors to continue to feel helpful and needed.
Increase in the ‘Good’ Hormones:
Increases in the bodies’ natural ‘feel-good’ hormones, like endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, all stimulated through social activities, can help the body fight off stress and illness.
So what does Senior Living have to do with it?
Although the overall equation may seem complex, senior living communities play a clear role in improving the lives of today’s seniors through social interaction.
The activities and programs provided at Senior Living Communities are carefully designed to meet the complex balance of physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social and vocational needs of their residents, taking the pressure off of seniors and their caregivers to research, create, transport and otherwise facilitate these interactions.
Social opportunities include:
- Pet Therapy
- Fitness Activities
- Card Games and Game Nights
- Arts and Crafts
- Book Clubs
- Community Volunteer Opportunities
- Painting Classes
- Music or Singing
- Community Field Trips to Museums, Lectures, Dining, Theatre, etc.
- Religious services or Bible Study
What to watch for
If you are a senior or senior caregiver, it is important to be on the lookout for signs of loneliness or social isolation. Some signs/risk factors include:
- Lack of a local network of friends
- No close family unit
- Death of a spouse
- Changes or life transitions
- Chronic illness
- Failing memory
- Hearing loss
- Fears of falling or driving
If you are concerned about yourself or your loved one, it’s important to take action. Consult a healthcare provider, research opportunities for socialization in your community, and ask yourself if it may be time to consider a move to a Senior Living Facility.
Scheduling a consult and tour is the first (entirely risk-free) step and can help you get a better sense of just how much Senior LIving could improve your life or the lives of the beloved senior in your life.
Reach out now to schedule a tour at your local community.