Strategies to reduce loneliness are far more successful when the senior adult actively takes part in planning and implementing the activities.
Recovering from a health episode that lands you in the hospital can be challenging for the best of us, but for seniors who are socially isolated and struggling with loneliness, readjustment can be especially tricky—isolation and loneliness just may increase the odds that they will end up returning to the hospital with a recurring health episode.
Researchers continue to find evidence that loneliness and social isolation can negatively affect physical health, not just mental health. Studies have shown that isolated seniors have higher blood pressure than their peers and are more likely to be admitted to assisted living and nursing care facilities as a result of poorer health. It’s not just being lonely that can have negative repercussions either; the simple act of feeling lonely is associated with higher rates of dementia in senior adults and with early death.
Loneliness and social isolation can exacerbate chronic conditions, such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and diabetes, as well, making recovery that much more difficult. In one study, researchers found that socially isolated older adults were nearly twice as likely to be readmitted to the hospital after a heart attack than those who were socially integrated.
The implication here is that treating the older adult’s mental health and social circumstances may help increase his or her chances of successful recovery. Family, friends, and caregivers should be particularly cognizant of the older adult’s mood and levels of engagement when he or she returns home from the hospital. During recovery, regular interactions with the senior, such as enjoying meals together or helping the senior with daily life activities, can help alleviate the sense of isolation that can be a product of illness. As the senior recovers, encouragement and support of activities with friends, family, and within the community can help prevent social isolation.
Senior adults who have no nearby family or do not have a strong social network may benefit greatly from companionship services and other in-home care services. In-home caregivers can give older adults the support they need to reintegrate into society and reassume many activities they previously enjoyed or encourage them to try new ones. They can also assist them with transportation, thereby removing this physical barrier to social activities. These types of engagements not only help seniors manage everyday activities, but also aid them in the road to recovery and an increased quality of life.
- Hawkley, L.C. and Cacioppo, J.T. (October 2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Ann Behav Med. 40(2). doi: 10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3874845/.
- Reblin, M. and Uchino, B.N. (March 2008). Social and emotional support and its implication for health. Curr Opin Psychiatry, 21(2): 201–205. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e3282f3ad89. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2729718/.
- Shulevitz, J. (May 13, 2013). The lethality of loneliness: We now know how it can ravage our body and brain. New Republic. Retrieved from http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113176/science-loneliness-how-isolation-can-kill-you.
- Windle, K., Francis, F. and Coomber, C. (October 2011). Preventing loneliness and social isolation: Interventions and outcomes. SCIE Research Briefing 39. Retrieved from http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/briefings/files/briefing39.pdf.
- Online version: http://www.comfortkeepers.com/home/info-center/articles/best-way-to-recover?group=0