Many of us are familiar with the more common threats to health as we age, especially heart disease, dementia or damage from falls. But one of the bigger ones that people don’t think of all that much is loneliness. The team at Accredited Home Care wants to help spread the word about the risks and dangers of leaving people lonely too long, along with the benefits of interaction in any form.
- There’s a large list of reasons why older adults are especially susceptible to loneliness. These include:
- They may not be able to get out as much as they used to.
- They have given up driving or only do so it occasionally, so may have difficulties visiting others, running errands or attending events.
- If they’re retired, they don’t interact with co-workers on a regular basis unless they put extra effort into arranging something.
- Children or other family members may not live nearby, so are less likely to drop regularly or give someone somewhere to visit.
- Health problems or injuries can cause a decrease in regular exercise, which can increase health risks more.
- Staying at home too long may lead to weak immune systems and depression, and both of these could have negative effects on one’s health. It also can negatively affect that subjective term called “quality of life” – how someone feels and interacts with their world at a physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social levels.
People who study the effects of loneliness point out all sorts of negatives: older adults who feel lonely are at higher risk of memory loss, high blood pressure, stroke or heart disease, compared to someone who lives with others.
The effects of being isolated can take the form of poor sleep, poor nutrition and less interest in physical activity, which is a similar high health risk to someone having 15 cigarettes a day.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, doesn’t just warn about the risks of being lonely – its research said that loneliness can actually be a way to predict functional decline and death.
A study of 1,604 people age 60 and over between 2002 and 2008 concluded that there was a connection between loneliness, functional decline and death. Lonely people were more likely to experience significant functional declines in general health, general tasks and general mobility.
Basically, people who are primarily by themselves feel isolated, and begin to lose interest in everything about life.
Do Your Part
So if loneliness is such a problem, what can be done about it? How can people who are lonely receive enough attention to boost their health instead of hurting it?
The good news is that there’s a lot that people in the Coronado area can do to help someone who is lonely, and even a little bit of attention can go a long way.
Most communities have some non-profits, religious groups or volunteer organizations that offer services to the elderly, disabled or house-bound residents. This can include programs like Meals on Wheels, which provide food delivery for those who aren’t able to go to the store themselves.
Other groups focus on providing errands and light home repairs that people aren’t able to get to on their own. Others offer companionship.
Having someone to visit with regularlity can give people something to look forward to in their weekly schedule. A NPR piece on loneliness described how a friendship encouraged a housebound senior to take efforts to get back into life and start having enjoyable experiences outside.
This goes beyond simple social stimulation and enjoying someone’s company.
A 2006 study in Great Britain shows that having a close relationship with someone can increase resistance to illness and reduce the risk of heart attacks.
The study showed that people’s neurons actually mirror the neurons of people close to us so we end up having similar feelings as them. The example was used of someone visiting a friend in the hospital – they’ll provide happy feelings and good thoughts to the patient, which will be passed on and give him or her a nice emotional boost – which could possibly translate into faster healing and a better attitude about their condition.
In comparison, someone in the hospital with no one to visit them may not be able to benefit from this kind of emotional connection and uplifting, although they may still enjoy visits from hospital staff.
Home Healthcare Can Help
Home healthcare services in the Coronado area serve a useful secondary role beyond whatever medical services are provided.
A weekly visit by a nurse, a massage therapist or another specialist can be enjoyed due to the company they offer, which is why many home health care employees are encouraged to take time to talk to their clients if they want to visit, rather than doing their tasks quickly and leaving. Both the client and provider can find these opportunities valuable.
Accredited Home Care can also offer a variety of other services to help people’s health along with making them feel and better and more connected, including errands, meal preparation and light cleaning.
For more information visit Accredited Home Care.