Approximately 11 million people 65 and older live alone, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. A new study suggests that, whether living alone or not, feeling lonely may lead to increased physical and mental decline and increase the risk of experiencing physical and mental decline.
Loneliness and Cognitive Decline
The Boston study of more than 8,000 seniors over 65 also noted a 20 percent higher risk of developing memory problems for those who reported feeling lonely. Other studies also report a link between depression and faster cognitive decline, which is significant because depression and loneliness can also be related. There was no link discovered between seniors with existing memory issues and loneliness, however, suggesting the correlation doesn’t go both ways.
Possible Physiological Effects of Loneliness
Feeling lonely after the death of a loved one or when a friend moves away is perfectly normal. According to Annapolis senior home care professionals, it’s chronic loneliness that may compromise a senior’s health. It’s not known if prolonged loneliness affects the brain, although a report in Psychology Today cites research suggesting that loneliness may:
- Trigger inflammation in the brain
- Raise levels of stress hormones
- Affect sleep habits
Some people in the early stages of dementia may avoid social situations and withdrawal from regular interactions due to embarrassment. In some cases, it’s not easy to tell if a senior loved one is purposely avoiding others since some seniors deny there is a problem at all. Although any changes in regular behavior, especially increased social isolation, should raise a red flag for caregivers and, at least, warrant a visit to their doctor.
Previous studies suggest an increased risk of early death and developing dementia-related conditions associated with loneliness. While there isn’t always a simple solution to reducing instances of senior loneliness and isolation, such research does provide an added incentive to encourage elderly loved ones to stay involved and engaged with others.
Learn more about promoting emotional and mental health from the friendly staff at Home Care Assistance. We are a trusted provider of part-time, respite, and live-in senior care in Annapolis, providing resources and support to seniors and their families. Call 443-302-2771 and request a free in-home consultation today.