….And What to Do About It
“Aging means a series of progressive losses including withdrawal from work, loss of purpose, reduced independence, loss of friends, increased poverty, the risk of developing an illness leading to long-term disability, isolation and loneliness. Why wouldn’t you be depressed – right?”
Wrong, according to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. The perception that depression and loneliness is a natural part of aging is incorrect.
According to Health Canada, older Canadians are healthier, more affluent, are living longer and more independent lives than ever before. So physical decline and isolation are not necessarily facts of life as we age. It doesn’t have to be that way. And yet, for a variety of reasons, many seniors still live lonely lives.
Loneliness has one of the biggest impacts on how we age. In older people, it can have serious health consequences, raising the risks of an earlier-than-expected death and the loss of physical abilities. According to a 2012 study, both social isolation and loneliness are associated with ahigher risk of mortality in adults aged 52 and older.
This is a problem that is not going to go away–approximately 25% of the Canadian population will be over 65 within the next twenty years. The problem of social isolation is likely to increase. As people get older, their likelihood of living alone only increases.
A staggering 30% of people aged 65 and older live alone as children and other family members relocate for school or work. As well, more and more older adults do not have children, according to the AARP, and that means fewer family members to provide company and care as people age.
Four Common Facts About Loneliness In Seniors
Loneliness has been shown to affect senior health in the following ways:
1) Feelings of loneliness affect both physical and mental health.
Seniors who feel lonely and isolated are more likely to report also having poor physical and/or mental health, as reported in a 2009 study.
2) Perceived loneliness contributes to cognitive decline and risk of dementia.
Feelings of loneliness are linked to poor cognitive performance and quicker cognitive decline.
3) Social isolation in seniors is linked to long-term illness.
Illnesses and conditions such as chronic lung disease, arthritis, impaired mobility, and depression are typically associated with social isolation.
4) Loneliness in seniors is a major risk factor for depression.
Numerous studies over the past decade have shown that feeling loneliness is associated with more depressive symptoms in both middle-aged and older adults. One important first step is recognizing those feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression and seeking treatment – whether it’s on your own behalf or for the sake of a loved one.
There are a variety of solutions for the problem of loneliness among seniors, including:
Volunteering can reduce social isolation and loneliness in seniors. Seniors can give to their community, and are encouraged to become active with a network of social contacts.
Taking a class can help reduce feelings of loneliness. Education is forward-looking, and the classroom is a social environment.
The positive effect of exercise on mental health has long been known. There can also be a social component to exercise, which of course reduces loneliness.
When we think of technology and loneliness, we often think of communicating with absent loved ones over the Internet. If you’re a family member living in a far-off place, providing an aging loved one with a tablet and a Skype account can help combat loneliness, but it’s no substitute for human contact. Instead, hearing aids are the one technology that has been shown to reduce loneliness among seniors.
If you’re a family member living apart from an aging parent or loved one, getting help from a caregiver can help reduce loneliness. A caregiver may be tasked with simply helping perform basic errands, managing prescriptions, and providing general conversation.