Thoughts on social isolation and loneliness in the elderly can be not an easy topic to address with someone for whom you care deeply. Loneliness sometimes causes feeling of embarrassment or shame, which can make an already difficult and painful experience even harder to bear. Loneliness is not something that can be objectively determined; after all, feeling lonely is a subjective experience, one where a person feels sadness or distress at being alone.
Just as complicated can be situations where a loved one lives alone or separated from close friends and family, but claims to feel perfectly fine with the arrangement. Social isolation may not always feel like a problem for some people, but the lack of opportunities to connect with others can affect the way a person views the world. Though isolation and loneliness are two completely separate concerns, they can both contribute to health problems in the elderly.
• Why is it so hard to talk about loneliness?
Loneliness can feel uncomfortable as a topic of discussion because there are no easy solutions to this deeply personal experience. Often, the social stigma around the mere acknowledgment of loneliness inhibits people from talking about it openly. As well, a person who is lonely sometimes experiences challenges to their mental and emotional health, if that person’s social needs continue to be unmet, and these challenges can lead to a sense of self-consciousness. Unfortunately, all of these consequences of loneliness can have negative effects on a person’s physical and mental health.
• What are some causes of loneliness in the elderly?
Elderly people, just like all adult people, sometimes experience loneliness when they are separated from a spouse or partner. For example, the death of a spouse or the sense of loss associated with illnesses like dementia that impact a spouse’s ability to engage with close family members can inspire feelings of loneliness. For others, retirement can lead to loneliness as job environments are often socially active. Loss of mobility and a lack of access to transportation can also lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
• Social isolation and loneliness put the elderly at higher risk for health problems
Humans are a naturally social species, so chronic states of isolation due to the death of a spouse, retirement from a job, or even a lack of access to transportation can cause health problems. Medical researchers have found that loneliness has an impact on inflammation, a condition which prevents the body from healing from various types of injury. Inflammation can lead to conditions like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and even dangerous arterial build-up. As well, links between loneliness and a weakened immune system have also been established.
• Interventions that build community and relationships
Many medical professionals feel that companionship, social activities, and other interventions that help people feel less lonely are important priorities when it comes to a person’s physical and emotional health. Some communities offer community programs that bring younger and older people together, and even therapy dogs are sometimes available for animal-lovers. Social groups, home visits, and support groups may also exist near your or your loved one’s community.
Our team members here at Guardian Angel Carers understand the value of relationships and we seek to provide warmth, connection, and companionship to all of the people and families who choose live-in care or home visits. All of our Angels are compassionately aware of the importance of social connections, and we will work with you and your loved one to make sure everyone is comfortable and confident. Contact us with any questions or concerns, and we look forward to hearing from you.