Loneliness Can Be a Health Issue for the Elderly and Caregivers
Loneliness is becoming a worldwide epidemic. When Oprah had a show on Loneliness recently, she reported that she received more social media responses on that subject than on any other subject she has talked about. We might expect loneliness among the elderly and people who are homebound, but it is also a common problem for caregivers.
Do you or does someone you love &/or care for suffer from loneliness? Try taking The Loneliness Quiz we found on Oprah.com, or ask the same questions of the person you are concerned about.
In an article titled At a Glance 60: Preventing loneliness and social isolation among older people, we found these 4 “Key Messages” about loneliness. You might want to read the entire article.
- Older people are particularly vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness, owing to loss of friends and family, mobility or income.
- Social isolation and loneliness have a detrimental effect on health and wellbeing. Studies show that being lonely or isolated can impact blood pressure, and it is closely linked to depression.
- The impact of loneliness and social isolation on an individual’s health and wellbeing has cost implications for health and social care services.
- Alleviating loneliness and social isolation can be achieved by one-on-one interventions and befriending, group services and wider community engagement.
“The Healing Power of Friendships” is another excellent resource for those who are or who know someone who is lonely. The article’s author, Linda Melone, states, “When friends fade from your life, live at a greater distance, or die, you are more likely to experience loneliness and depression in later years. And with isolation also comes a greater risk for serious health issues…, according to a study done by researchers at the University of Chicago. They also found that links between loneliness and rates of cancer run parallel, as do increases in inflammation and decreases in antibody production.”
“This doesn’t mean that everyone who is lonely will have health problems as they age,” says Louise Hawkley, one of the lead researchers in the Chicago study. “It just puts them at a higher risk…. Men in particular tend to rely on their spouses for fulfilling their social needs,” she explains. “So if the socially active spouse always does the initiating and she dies, it’s a steep learning curve for the spouse that remains to start from scratch. That’s not to say that forming new friendships — or holding onto old ones — decreases in importance over time, however. Overall, friendships become only more precious as serious life issues begin to arise with advancing age…. Making new friends is a good cushion against the inevitable losses that come with time.”
Additional studies and statistics show the impact of loneliness on older adults:
- Adults age 65 and older who live alone and receive at least one visitor per week are more likely to be alive in one year than those who do not receive at least one visitor per week.
- Loneliness has a detrimental influence on the health of both men and women.
- Females have a higher mean score for loneliness than males, and the score is also higher among the 75 + years age group.
- Either a desire not to be a burden on children or the lack of funds finds many older people living alone without human contact for days at a time.
- Many elderly people are unaware of the resources that are available or are unable to navigate the system to get the help and companionship they need.
Causes of caregiver loneliness:
Caregivers for the elderly and chronically ill also run the risk of loneliness that can affect their health and emotional wellbeing. In an article titled The 7 Deadly Emotions of Caregiving, #5 is Loneliness. Whether you are a family member or a professional caregiver, constantly giving care to others can “shrink your world almost before you realize what’s happened.” Other topics covered include:
- Friends may back away out of uncertainty or a belief they aren’t wanted.
- Intense time demands lead you to drop out of outside activities.
- If you’re dealing with dementia, the loss of your loved one’s former level of companionship is another keenly felt social loss adding to isolation.
Risks of loneliness:
- Your very brain is altered: People with rich social networks have different brain structures.
- Loneliness seems to curb willpower and the ability to persevere.
- Loneliness can lead to overeating, smoking, and overuse of alcohol.
- Lonely people also have more cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Social isolation is a risk factor for dementia.
What you can do:
- Expand your social circles, real and virtual.
- Arrange respite help, so you can add at least one outside activity, such as one you’ve dropped.
- Take the initiative to reach out to old friends and invite them over if you can’t get out easily.
- Consider joining a support group related to caregiving or your loved one’s illness. In online support groups, you can find kinship with those who know just what you’re going through.
Help from Dakota Travel Nurse Home Care:
Respite Care: We’ve met many family caregivers who ask us if we offer respite care or other forms of help. Sometimes a friend or family member can see the need to ease the primary caregiver’s load and will check with us to see what can be done to help. Because Dakota Travel Nurse Home Care does offer respite care, we have learned from first-hand experience what a positive difference just short breaks in an otherwise demanding schedule can make.
Live-in care: DTN Home care also offers live-in care. It ensures your loved one or patient is given medical attention, general care, and has someone who is available as needed. But it can be much more than that. Clients can expect not only an employee, but also a companion and a friend who participates in hobbies and recreation with the patient, thus helping to avoid the very real health risks of loneliness.
Call us today at 701.663.5373 for a free, in-home consultation.