Loneliness Has Profound Health Effects for Seniors

There’s no doubt that loneliness can lower your quality of life and your emotional health, but did you know that it can also raise risk factors that threaten your physical health? It’s not just medical problems that contribute to decreased mobility and negative health outcomes in seniors. Emotional and psychosocial factors also play a large role. In fact, feeling lonely may be a major risk factor for premature death.

What Are the Effects of Loneliness?

A University of Chicago study found that feeling extreme lonely increases a senior’s likelihood of premature death by 14 percent, which is only slightly below the risk posed by living below the poverty line. Perhaps even more shocking, those who are lonely have a greater risk of early death than those who are obese, according to a 2010 study published by PLOS Medicine.

Loneliness causes medical issues because it can disrupt sleeping patterns, raise blood pressure, and lead to stress and depression. The immune system can also be disrupted, meaning that those who are lonely may not be able to fight off infections as well as their peers.

Who Is Lonely?

According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), 43 percent of adults age 60 and older report experiencing loneliness on a regular basis. It’s important to note that loneliness doesn’t only happen to people who are alone. Not all seniors who live alone are lonely, and many who are married or live with family often still report feeling lonely. A lack of quantity of relationships isn’t as important to creating a feeling loneliness as a lack of quality of relationships.

What Should I Do to Combat Loneliness?

When you think of ways to combat loneliness, the first that most likely comes to mind is to spend more time with family and friends. This is a great first step. It’s important to continue to attend family functions and to keep in touch with friends and former colleagues. For some, though, distance and time makes this impossible. Luckily, there are still many things you can do to combat loneliness.

  • Consider a pet. Studies show that owning pets can drastically decrease feelings of loneliness.
  • Seek a support group for those who have lost a spouse, or others in similar situations.
  • Seek community resources to help solve transportation issues that may isolate you.
  • Take part in an activity, whether it’s a craft circle, exercise class, or book club.
  • Volunteer for a local nonprofit.
  • Learn to use a computer and become active on social media. To learn more, you can find online tutorials at Senior Planet.

Loneliness affects much more than just your emotional health. It can also have a negative effect on your physical health and even threaten your independence. If taking steps to cure loneliness doesn’t seem to help, it’s important to discuss your feelings with your doctor or a trusted counselor.

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