For older adults who live alone in their homes, social isolation and loneliness in seniors is an issue that continues to be on the rise in today’s world. Despite the fact that technology like smartphones and social media help us stay more connected to others, studies show that 20 percent of seniors living alone in their homes feel somewhat isolated or lonely. It’s important to note that being socially isolated and feeling lonely are not the same issue; social isolation arises when a person does not have others to connect with, while loneliness is the experience of feeling distressed over not having enough contact with people.
According to the Administration on Aging, 35 percent of women over age 65 are widows, and by the time people reach age 85, 40 percent of them live alone. Although living alone doesn’t always mean these seniors are isolated or lonely, if they aren’t interacting with others on a regular basis, they may still experience of variety of negative effects on their overall health.
The Link between Loneliness in Seniors and Alzheimer’s Disease
Seniors feel lonely or isolated for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it’s no longer safe for them to drive, so they remain alone in their homes for long periods of time. They may live in a rural area and not have access to regularly scheduled activities, or have no family members in close proximity. Regardless of why a senior may be socially isolated or lonely, the effects are often the same, resulting in mental health conditions like depression, an increased risk for falls and being admitted to a hospital repeatedly, and a decline in physical health and cognitive abilities.
Recently, researchers discovered that feeling lonely is a major risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The perceived absence of social connections may cause changes in the nervous system that harm connections between brain cells. This in turn makes the brain more vulnerable to the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Another study found that seniors who reported feeling lonely had elevated levels of cortical amyloid, the protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Even though these seniors were not experiencing any cognitive decline at the time, the loneliness they experienced could increase their risk in the future.
How to Avoid Social Isolation and Loneliness for a Healthy Life
The good news is that staying socially active as you age can help slow cognitive decline and there are a variety of ways seniors can continue to build relationships with others. Consider downsizing to a senior living community where you’ll have plenty of opportunities to interact with peers. Invite a friend or family member over for a weekly lunch date. You can join a club to meet others who share common interests, like a book or garden club. Volunteer in your community to help those in need.
If you’re a family member concerned about an aging loved one becoming socially isolated or lonely, make regular visits a priority. If you don’t live nearby, enlist help from a neighbor or friend who lives in the area. Have them check in occasionally on your loved one so they can keep an eye out for any unusual behavior or decline in health.
American Senior Communities offers person-centered dementia care at our Auguste’s Cottage and a variety of assisted living memory care apartments throughout our locations. Contact us today to request more information.