Loneliness in Old Age – Does Being Lonely Affect How We Age?

Loneliness in Old Age - Does Being Lonely Affect How We Age_

Of course loneliness is not linked to age. You can be lonely at any age. But recent research has found an increase in loneliness in old age. Is this true and does loneliness in old age affect how we age?


Loneliness in Old Age

I am sure that so of us have been affected by loneliness at one point or another, regardless of our age. While it was probably only a temporary loneliness, you probably remember how you felt at the time. You craved the interaction that you weren't getting with friends. Maybe you moved to a new area? Perhaps you lost a friend or family member. Events in your life like going through a breakup or even after spending a week in bed with the flu. All of these can cause you loneliness. It's terrible – that feeling that loneliness brings.

Sadly, this feeling of loneliness increases as we age. Older people are much more vulnerable to feelings of loneliness. The affects these feelings can have are much worse too.

Social Interactions

Our brains have evolved so we depend upon our social interactions. We love to be around others as much as we can. As social creatures, it turns out that being lonely could be affecting our aging process. It can also have an impact on your overall well-being.

We're facing an epidemic of loneliness and millions of people are suffering. This is something that crosses the lines of gender, race, and even age, although our elderly community has it the worst.

Loneliness in Old Age - Being Alone

Loneliness in Old Age is More Than a Feeling

We may not be able to quantify exactly what loneliness really is. It is something that is subjective. What we do know, is that it is much more than just a feeling. It is just as harmful as smoking and may be even more harmful than obesity.

According to a study from the American Medical Association, lonely people were at greater risk than those who were not lonely. Researchers found that there were other adverse conditions to loneliness. Lonely seniors over 60 were found to have experienced decline in other functionality, including bathing, dressing, walking, and going up and down the stairs.

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Lonely seniors are also more likely to develop a variety of medical conditions, such as heart problems, diabetes, and hypertension. Seniors who are isolated are almost 30% more likely to develop depression and more likely to die early.

The Effects of Loneliness

A 2010 study from the University of Chicago found that in people over 50, loneliness causes a significant increase in blood pressure. The risk rises with age, but a 30 point increase in blood pressure is not something that should be ignored.

While we typically fight high blood pressure with weight loss and exercise our social life, or lack thereof, could be defeating the purpose. In truth, as fit as you are and as well as you eat, you are just as at risk of high blood pressure as your friends who do none of those things but seek out human interaction wherever possible.

Additionally, loneliness impacts your immune system. A joint study from the University of Chicago and the University of California, found that loneliness actually leads to abnormalities in the white blood cells crucial for fighting infection. Being isolated socially leaves these cells immature, so instead of fighting infections, these white blood cells reduce your immunity.

Loneliness in Old Age - Being Lonely

Loneliness Can Be Managed

The physical act of aging is enough for people to cope with, but we must think about our emotional aging as well as the physical side of things. A lot needs to be done to support our aging communities, but it's important to start building meaningful friendships earlier in life.

We are so caught up in our careers that the majority of our socializations revolve around the workplace. So, when retirement comes calling we don't have a support network to rely on.

If this describes you, make moves now to make friends outside of your workplace. Whether you join a community class, start volunteering or find a religious group to connect with – it's all about making friends with people who share your interests and values and making time for them.

If this is applicable to an elderly relative you can help them get out there and make friends. Most importantly, it's up to you to make time to visit them regularly. If you can't make it in person you should be making every effort to have video chats or phone calls to ensure they are getting some human interaction on a daily basis.

Inese - April 25, 2018

It is a huge subject.
One can be alone and feel not lonely, and one can be among people and feel completely lost, lonely and forgotten. It is what we do, how we manage our life and what we allow into it.
It also depends on work one does.
I relocated to Canada when I was 46, almost 50. It’s been 14 years. It is hard to integrate into very different community at older age.
However, I am somebody who creates events, so that I am always busy.
My work is the alone work: whether that is medical writing, translation and research or art, drawing, painting, creating. I do gardening and sewing and I design outfits and create things that are necessary for house, etc. That is all stuff where I do not need anybody.
All people age absolutely differently, partially that depends on their DNA and to some extent it is the past that will either make aging easy or complicate it with side effects of treatments and so on.
I do suggest and advocate a lot on my art website that people use their brain a lot and get started with manually doing arts. We do not have to become perfect or be artists. Doing sketching and drawing from real life boosts the brain functionality to a huge extent. The few clinical trials showed that for the brain there is no better way to be flexible and new that to be challenged and engaged with pleasurable activities.
Art is a hobby that will never make a person feel alone. It keeps one immersed and busy and engaged.
Busy means never feeling lonely.

    Penny Burns - April 25, 2018

    Hi, thanks for visiting and taking the time to express your thoughts. Yes, you are quite right, having a great hobby certainly helps. Using your brain as you age is essential for many reasons. And some people are great on their own and prefer it. I certainly am like that. I can only hope this holds true as I age! But loneliness is a personal experience. We are all different and feel lonely for different reasons. A major cause of loneliness in older people is those who have had a lot of social contact in their job, and then leave it to have almost no social contact. If you haven’t had those feelings or type of job, you won’t feel the difference. Certainly, in the UK there are 1.4 million older people who say they feel alone. If they don’t have friends or hobbies, it is hard to start them so late in life. I think it is important that we are aware that there is such a problem so we can identify it in others. And also ourselves, whilst we still have time to do something about it.

an artist reflects - April 26, 2018

Much needed and informative post ~ thanks, ^_^

Reviews_by_jc - May 2, 2018

Great post!

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