The Effects of Loneliness and Isolation to the Elderly

Sunday, February 18, 2018


According to a 2012 study in the U.S, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality in adults aged 52 and older. And a study by The University of Chicago showed major health risks were associated with loneliness; revealing that elderly people who are affected by ‘extreme loneliness’ are up to 14 percent more likely to die a premature death. This is backed up by the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), which reported that elderly people who are socially isolated are more likely to die earlier.Decline in physical and mental health

Regardless of the causes of isolation, seniors who feel lonely and isolated are more likely to also report having poor physical and/or mental health, according to a study using data from the U.S National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project.

In the United Kingdom, the Campaign to End Loneliness concludes that the lack of social relationships is as strong a risk factor for mortality as smoking, obesity or the lack of physical activity. Similarly, older adults who are lonely have an increased risk of dying sooner and are more likely to experience a decline in their mobility, compared to those who are not.

Interestingly, but sadly, there is a trend for older people to present to hospital emergency departments, not necessarily due to medical problems but for social interactions, or because they are simply not coping. Australian Government website My Aged Care quotes a study where people classified as ‘lonely’ are 60 percent more likely to access emergency services than those considered ‘non-lonely’ and are twice as likely to enter residential aged care facilities.

Long-term illness

In the PNAS study mentioned above, illnesses and conditions such as chronic lung disease, arthritis, impaired mobility, high blood pressure and depression are associated with social isolation.

Cognitive decline and risk of dementia

According to the U.S Senior Living Blog, Dr. John Cacioppo, a neuroscientist, and psychologist at the University of Chicago, has been studying social isolation for 30 years. One of his frightening findings is that feelings of loneliness are linked to poor cognitive performance, quicker cognitive decline and the increased risk of dementia.

Vulnerability to elder abuse

A study by the U.S National Center on Elder Abuse shows a connection between social isolation and higher rates of elder abuse. Researchers aren’t certain whether this is because isolated adults are more likely to fall victim to abuse, or it’s a result of abusers attempting to isolate the elders from others to minimize the risk of discovery. Irrespective of the cause, this vulnerability is a cause for concern.

Depression and pessimism

Numerous studies have shown that loneliness is a major risk factor for depression, with increased symptoms in both middle-aged and older adults. Socially isolated seniors are more likely to predict their quality of life will get worse, and are more concerned about needing help from community programs as they get older.

Long term care

According to a report from the Canadian Children’s, Women’s and Seniors Health Branch, loneliness and social isolation are major predictors of seniors needing home care, as well as entering nursing homes.

Unhealthy behaviour

A study using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) found that people who are socially isolated or lonely are also more likely to report risky health behaviors such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, and smoking.

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