The Positive Effects of Resolving Loneliness for Seniors

Over the past decade there has been a 10 percent increase in people living alone, and 28 percent of older adults now live by themselves. As people age, they may hesitate to change their living situation due to financial concerns, fervent independence, lack of motivation, or nervousness about how a new living situation may turn out. However, as a person’s social isolation increases, research shows loneliness has the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Important health markers degrade when seniors are socially isolated:

  • Sleep is interrupted many times per night.
  • Gene expressions are altered which increase stress and aging on the body.
  • Cognitive performance is impaired.
  • Immunity to disease is compromised.
  • Chronic inflammation causes pain and disease.
  • The health risk of loneliness or social isolation is comparable to obesity, substance abuse, injury and violence, and pollution.
  • Studies show that loneliness increases the risk for early death by 45 percent and the chance of developing dementia in later life by 64 percent. However, people who have strong ties to family and friends are as much as 50 percent less at risk of dying over any given period of time than those with fewer social connections.

This means the men’s cribbage club at the local YMCA, or a dedicated tribe of women who meet for exercise class and coffee a couple of times a week, are as powerful as good medicine. Seniors who also opt to live in community can benefit from added interaction with peers at mealtimes, during activities, or simply chatting in the hallway.

Why does living in community help improve and extend the lives of seniors?

  • Loneliness can strike in the midst of other people, but to be consistently drawn back into community will prevent one’s isolation from becoming harmful to his or her overall health.
  • Loneliness is the feeling of disconnection from others and a lack of meaningful relationships with the people one does see. When you live in community, you build meaningful connections with your neighbors and caregivers. You are missed, and you miss others, when the group is incomplete.
  • A person can moderate the amount of time he or she spends alone. By having one’s own living space, it’s okay to spend a quiet day reading or resting, but still know you can visit with others or ask for help if you need it.
  • The joy of giving back and supporting friends in the midst of life’s inevitable struggles is rewarding and empowering. It’s more possible to be a good friend when you are living in community with one another.

Research tells us social connectedness helps people live better, longer lives—and a lifetime of experience and earned wisdom tell us this is indeed true! Although a move from one’s long-term home can be difficult at first, many seniors who move into a senior living community will say they wished they made the change earlier. This is proof that genuinely caring for one another is balm for the body and soul.