Waiting for God

Loneliness in Seniors

Many of us age with fewer people in their network than when we were younger.  This leaves our seniors vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness.  Research has linked loneliness to several physical and mental conditions:  high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and even death.  People who have just lost a loved one, recently retired, or lost mobility are particularly at risk.  

According to the Canadian census, 24.6% of seniors over 65 now live along with no family or friends.  The National Seniors Council of Canada states that loneliness in seniors happens with too little contact or the quality of the contact was low.  

Loneliness is a sense of lost connection.  If we do not feel connected, we see the world differently.  Chronic loneliness causes one to feel threatened and mistrustful of others.  It may also alter the body’s ability to carry out the proper immune response.  For example, the body may not swell enough to promote healing, or swell for too long increasing the risk chronic disease.  

There are many reasons for loneliness such as bereavement, loss of network after retirement, lack of transportation options and financial difficulties.  Aging with grace and dignity requires resources available to care for a dying person at the end of their lives.  Clarity care can help with resourcing family and friends, as well as for fee services.  Link to clarity care. 

There are several risks associated with loneliness.  Lonely seniors are almost 60% more likely to deteriorate physically and mentally than their more social counterparts.   There are three other risks that come with lonely seniors:  Increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia; increased risk of depression; and increased risk of mortality.  One study suggests that 90% of people with chronic loneliness do not seek treatment when they need it. 

Signs of mental distress due to loneliness are as follows:

  • Restless sleep
  • Increased buying habit
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mentions people they have not seen in a long time
  • Change in frequency of phone calls
  • Increased amount of time spent at home alone
  • Verbal cues
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Imaginary health issues
  • Befriending/interacting with suspicious people

Seniors living along with a cognitive impairment has its own set of challenges.   These people spend much of their time managing their household and are reluctant to show they need help for fear of being removed from their home.   Special attention must be paid to this situation.  Often times the dependent senior ends up in a home and are miserable, making all the community of care miserable too.  

There are two ways that connections for seniors can be severed.  Social isolation means they are cut off from external connections.  Loneliness means they feel disconnected.  This can happen even when people are around.  

According to a recent study, “The epidemiology of social isolation and loneliness among older adults during the last years of life” 1 in 4 older adults suffered from social isolation or loneliness within 4 years of their death.