The recent COVID-19 pandemic has pushed societies across the globe into extended periods of social isolation and social distancing, which prompted a discussion on the fact of feeling lonely and its potential risks. Loneliness has long been present, yet it is still not as frequently discussed within the community. This mental issue is especially problematic for older adults who are affected by it the most. Loneliness may be perceived as a feeling, but it can have real-life consequences on human health. Here is what you need to know about loneliness and social isolation.
Loneliness vs. Solitude
Research has shown that being alone and being lonely are two completely different things. Here is how these two terms can be understood:
- Solitude is voluntary and it can actually offer some mental health benefits. It lets people recharge and focus while being on their own. People still continue interacting with others and reaching out whenever they need to connect in between the periods that they spend alone.
- Loneliness, on the contrary, is perceived as involuntary separation, rejection, or abandonment by others despite craving social connections. This is usually accompanied by feelings of isolation and negativity.
It is important to take note that an individual may still feel lonely amidst having an interaction with others, or the other way round – be socially isolated without feeling lonely in any way. Hence, loneliness is perceived as a state of mind.
Health Risks of Loneliness and Social Isolation in Older Adults
Researchers have found that loneliness can adversely impact the health of older adults. While it will not definitely cause adverse health conditions, but it may greatly increase the risk of their onset. Below are several adverse health conditions that may be caused by loneliness in older adults:
One of the most obvious effects of loneliness is how it can negatively affect the mood of a person who is staying on their own. Various studies have shown that loneliness is always associated with numbness, sadness, hopelessness, pain, and low self-worth. In older adults, they may in turn develop depression and anxiety.
Cognitive Decline and Dementia
Another adverse health effect of loneliness is the decline in mental health. For older adults who experience long-term loneliness, it can manifest into cognitive decline and lead to poorer overall performance of their cognitive functions. In addition, there have also been studies that show social isolation can result in the onset of dementia.
Physical and Mental Health Decline
A recent study showed a direct correlation between senior loneliness and their physical and mental health. The research found that older adults who feel lonely or isolated report deterioration in their health.
Higher Risk of Mortality
A study found that social isolation increases the risk of mortality in older adults aged 52 and over. Researchers found that older adults who live on their own and lack social interaction have a higher tendency to seek no medical assistance even when they experience health symptoms or develop critical health issues.
In conclusion, it is important for older adults to participate in senior living activities. They will get to meet new people and forge meaningful relationships to improve not just their social health, but also other aspects of their senior health like cognitive functions and physical abilities.