Loneliness in Seniors - More Deadly Than You Think

Posted on April 7, 2017

Photo: flickr

Many of us are probably aware of, or even related to, senior citizens who live at home alone, and whose lifestyle largely comprises hours spent in front of the television, with practically no social interaction. The loneliness that these seniors face is a growing problem.
It is a fact that loneliness may very well accelerate the weakening of a senior’s physical, emotional and mental health. Many seniors are rather isolated; at first glance, their calendars may appear full of appointments, but these appointments are often check-ups for healthcare purposes or perhaps reminders to pick up their prescription medications. Clearly, these are a far cry from any sort of social activity.

Loneliness can gradually seep into a senior’s life for a variety of reasons: their children may leave them to build families of their own, their spouses may no longer be with them, or they might suffer from a physical disability that might prevent them from leaving the house often.

Psychologists have proven that loneliness is a lot more serious than we think. On a molecular level, loneliness disrupts our hormone levels, which then affect the genes that govern our behaviour and a bunch of other bodily systems as well. Prolonged periods of loneliness does not only make you ill, but can have the potential to kill you. Emotional isolation is just as capable of killing you as smoking is. Some diseases – including heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and even cancer – can be made worse by loneliness. Others may end up developing unhealthy lifestyle habits such as an over-consumption of alcohol, or poor eating habits.

In the United States alone, the number of people aged 65 and above increased by 24.7%, from 35.9 million in 2003 to 44.7 million in 2013. By 2060, it is projected to more than double to 98 million. More than fifty percent of women aged 75 and above live alone, and approximately 28% of all non-institutionalised seniors live by themselves. Worse still, one survey concluded that those who were aged 55 and above, and not institutionalised, only spent 39 minutes engaging in social activity. This amounts to ten percent of their leisure time, and is a far cry from the 4 hours of television they watch, which amounts to approximately 58% of their leisure time.

Many of these seniors cannot afford to pay for companion care, or do not qualify for it. Hence, if they are unable to participate in community-wide activities, they might very well be left to fend for themselves. It is saddening to hear that one 24-hour hotline in England receives ten thousand calls every week from seniors who just want someone to talk to. Private companion care services exist, but are considered expensive to many, at approximately 18 dollars an hour. Visits are only applicable to those who are unable to leave their homes due to mobility issues or medical conditions. Furthermore, although there are long-term insurance plans available that may include companion care services, these plans are often extremely costly. Due to these reasons, the vast majority of seniors living alone remain that way.

Given the potential health risks associated with loneliness, and for the happiness of the seniors, it would perhaps be wise to look into revised or new insurance plans that include companion care.

Category(s):Aging & Geriatric Issues

Source material from Psychology Today

Mental Health News