One of the aspects of our lives that takes the greatest hit as we age is our social lives. Whether its health problems that keep us from getting out and about or the fact that our loved ones have lives of their own and move away, struggling with loneliness is a very real fight for many seniors. However, new research from multiple universities across the country shows that loneliness and seniors could be a lethal combination. And that risk may not decrease even when aging seniors live with a spouse or domestic partner.
Research Confirms Combination of Loneliness and Seniors Correlates with Physical Decline
A recent study which examined the health records of over 1,600 seniors and compared them with answers from self-reported questionnaires confirmed that feelings of loneliness do indeed correspond with a physical decline.
Researchers from UCSF also found that in addition to the physical decline associated with feelings of loneliness, the data clearly showed that self-reported lonely individuals were more likely to die within six years than those who were content with their social lives.
In yet another study at The University of Chicago, researchers were able to link loneliness to high blood pressure. After examining the medical records of 229 individuals between 50 and 68 years of age, the data clearly showed that lonely individuals were more apt to suffer dramatic increases in blood pressure than socially satisfied individuals.
Loneliness Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Being Alone
It may seem counterintuitive but nearly two-thirds (66%) of the seniors who reported feeling lonely in the first study mentioned above were either married or living with a partner. The physical proximity of another individual—a spouse, a caregiver, a neighbor—doesn’t equate to social satisfaction.
Indeed, researchers in both studies defined the term “lonely” as feeling left out or excluded, or feeling isolated and lacking mental and emotional companionship. This seems to confirm what anecdotal evidence has alluded to for years: The more interconnected and socially engaged people are, the better they fare as they age.
Social Engagement is Key to Better Health and Longevity in Aging Populations
Unfortunately, it’s estimated that at any given time, 20% to 40% of Americans feel lonely, unattached, or isolated socially. And regardless of the exact mechanics behind the link between loneliness and poor health, it’s clear that as caregivers we need to do more to ensure those who depend on us feel engaged, valued, and included as much as possible. It’s not enough to simply visit with a person every day. You have to engage them on a deeper level.
That’s why we here at Second Family Home Care make such an effort to really get to know the people we work with. Our caregivers are trained to treat individuals as a person and often try to “blend in” and become like an extension of the family. To learn more about how Second Family Home Care can provide inclusive in-home care for your aging loved one, contact us today or call 972-347-0700 to schedule a consultation.