If you were to rank everything you know that’s bad for you — whether or not you choose to avoid them yourself – there’s a good chance that things like obesity and smoking will be high on the list. But the team at Accredited Home Care also wants to draw attention to an equally dangerous condition that few may be aware of: chronic loneliness.
While everyone in the Santa Monica area may have felt lonely at various times, chronic loneliness is something that is much more isolating, when people feel like they’re on the edges, or even on the outside, of the world around them.
For more than a decade, researchers around the world have been looking into the role that loneliness can play in people’s lives and overall health. What they’ve found isn’t all that encouraging.
For starters, they distinguished between loneliness, which is when someone feels emotionally disconnected even though they’re around people, and social isolation, which is simply physically not being around people.
Chronic loneliness or chronic isolation both can cause inflammation, high blood pressure, and reduced immunity. It can cause the release of hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, which, in healthy people, are supposed to come out only in temporary stressful situations when one is required to be on high alert. However, long-term production of these hormones can be damaging to our bodies, including changing our very genetics and making our cells age faster.
If that isn’t enough to worry about, recent research from Brigham Young University has shown that chronic loneliness not only causes or aggravates day-to-day stress but increases our risk of heart disease significantly, plus dementia by 64 percent and early death by 45 to 50 percent.
Feelings of depression combined with chronic health problems also can increase the risk of suicide in many people. September is actually National Suicide Prevention Month, a time to assist people with suicidal thoughts and point them in the direction of health resources.
Is help available?
Like any public health issue, there aren’t easy answers to how to automatically improve everyone’s regular social contacts and reduce or remove their chronic loneliness. This is easier said than done, especially since the amount of loneliness and how connected someone feels or doesn’t feel is personal and subjective, and everyone has their own standards.
Also, someone who has been isolated for years may have initial challenges reaching out to anyone especially if they gradually and deliberately may have minimized their interactions with others (becoming less eager to go shopping so developing a habit of ordering online, or getting take-out instead of going to a restaurant.)
One of the BYU researchers suggested that society should focus better at reducing loneliness at all age levels, not just seniors. For instance, children in school should learn more social skills, and doctors should include screening for “social connections” when they evaluate patient health.
People planning retirement should also consider opportunities to find new social outlets when they leave their workplace, rather than focusing just on finances.
Other researchers suggest that a valuable defense against loneliness is to look for ways to form stronger relationships with others, rather than casual connections. This can be a challenge as well, since loneliness can be connected to depression, where people begin to doubt themselves and have low self-esteem.
Most communities some sort of social opportunities for seniors, whether it’s a community center, places to volunteer or mentor, civic or service clubs to join or even a respite care center. People who still may not feel comfortable going outside can still connect online with peers.
So it may take a combination of people wanting to reach out and others being willing to extend a hand to them to create something meaningful. Various community resources, such as appealing programs and activities especially for seniors, can also go a long way.
Consider home health
People in the Santa Monica area can benefit from regular visits from home health care providers. Home health care agencies have access to a variety of trained experts and other specialists possessing a variety of skills to benefit clients, especially those who may feel lonely for any reason.
While home health care professionals do provide medical and therapeutic services, their presence can provide social and emotional interaction, which clients can look forward to.
Even better, some in-home caregivers can offer non-medical care, such as meal preparation, laundry, errands, transportation or light housekeeping. All of these areas can assist in lifting the spirits of people who may feel down because they no longer are able to perform some of the tasks by themselves anymore.
In-home caregivers can even help with basic activities such as hygiene or dressing, and motion exercises, all of which can provide mental and physical boosts.
Regular visits from home health care providers can also be good opportunities to asses a client’s mental and physical condition, which can be relayed to family, caregivers or a primary provider.
For more information about other strategies to defend against loneliness and schedule regular visits, contact Accredited Home Care.