People are social by nature and this instinct to be social does not disappear with age. However, adults who reach their golden years are more likely to lack social interaction for various reasons. Seniors who experience the loss of their spouses or friends and those who live far away from their families may experience loneliness. Loneliness among seniors can lead to a range of health issues and depression.
The situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic is contributing to the loneliness that is already a problem for some seniors. A poll taken in 2018 shows that 34 percent of adults from age 50 to 80 are affected by isolation or lack of companionship. This percentage is expected to rise in 2020 due to the isolation caused by the pandemic. It is important for seniors to shelter in place because COVID-19 can be dangerous and deadly for those over the age of 60, but the loneliness that results can have other adverse effects on the physical and mental health of seniors.
The Effects of Loneliness on Senior Citizens
Studies have shown that mental and physical health can be affected directly by feelings of loneliness. The full extent of how loneliness can affect physical and mental health in seniors is still being researched and discovered. Healthcare professionals and professionals within the home care industry are taking notice of this correlation and adjusting their approach to caregiving to help curb loneliness in seniors with companion care.
The following are the main health effects that loneliness can cause in seniors.
High Risk of Dementia and Cognitive Decline
Those affected by loneliness are more likely to experience cognitive decline that can lead to different forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Neuroscientist and psychologist Dr. John Cacioppo spent 30 years studying social isolation and found that loneliness is a subjective feeling of distress felt by those with little social contact. This perceived feeling of loneliness can change behaviors and biological processes including cognitive performance. As cognitive performance is affected, decline will increase and lead to onset dementia.
High Risk of Depression
Loneliness can make people of all age groups feel pain, sadness, and low self-esteem. In fact, a strong correlation has been discovered between loneliness and symptoms of depression among senior citizens. It is possible for loneliness to cause depression and other mental health issues in adults and seniors and for those who are already struggle with depression, feelings of loneliness can make it worse.
High Risk of Health Issues and Chronic Illness
Many physical health conditions have been linked to loneliness including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and weakened immune systems. Because of the high blood pressure and weakened immune systems, those affected are also more likely to suffer from long-term illnesses. Director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles Steve Cole, Ph.D. found that loneliness can change the way the body functions. These changes can lead to the growth and spread of cancer cells, buildup of plaque in arteries, and inflammation.
High Risk of Death
Given that loneliness can lead to cognitive decline, depression, and a range of physical issues, it makes sense that seniors dealing with loneliness also have a higher risk of death. Studies have shown that adults over the age of 52 have a high mortality risk if they are dealing with social isolation. One theory is that those who have less social contact are less likely to get medical attention for various symptoms and illnesses.
Signs of Loneliness in Seniors
It is important to recognize if your elderly loved ones might be dealing with feelings of loneliness. Identifying and addressing the loneliness will help improve the physical, mental, and emotional help of your loved ones. The following are the most common signs that seniors are lonely:
- General sadness
- Less interest in socializing and favorite hobbies
- Problems with sleep and memory
- Less motivation and energy
- Personal hygiene neglect
- Unexplained aches and pains
How to Reduce Loneliness Among Seniors
While the pandemic has restricted people’s movements and caused friends and family members to see each other less, it is still possible to engage your senior loved ones to combat loneliness. Relieving the loneliness of your senior loved ones should start within your family. You and your relatives should make sure that your elderly loved ones are visited regularly. Create a visitation schedule that works for all involved and designate relatives to give your loved ones rides to doctor appointments and the grocery store. Make sure to follow the proper safety precautions for the pandemic, including wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing social distancing when possible.
Another way you can engage with your senior loved ones during the pandemic is to use video conferencing software like Zoom, Facebook, FaceTime, and others. This technology allows face to face visits from a safe distance to avoid the spread of illnesses. Calling your elderly loved ones using video software while designating a couple of relatives to visit them in person will help keep your elderly loved ones safe and make them feel connected to the family.
Senior Home Care and Companion Care
If your relatives live far from your elderly loved ones or are too busy to visit regularly, you can enlist the help of home care professionals. Home care agencies like Assisting Hands Home Care provide full senior home care services that cover your senior loved one’s care needs and provide them with meaningful companionship. Our caregivers work directly with you and your loved ones to determine your loved one’s care needs and form a care plan that will accommodate their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Our home care services include help with activities of daily living (ADLs) and assistance with other important tasks like meal preparation, light housekeeping, and senior transportation. Our caregivers will also provide companion care for your loved ones, becoming their companion as well as their caregiver. Our caregivers will get to know your loved ones on a personal level and regularly engage them in friendly conversation and their favorite activities.
At Assisting Hands Home Care, we take every precaution necessary to protect your loved ones and our caregivers from COVID-19. Give us a call at (630) 352-3656 to learn more.