July 5, 2011
Evidence Mounts of Dire Consequence for Older Lonely Adults
Loneliness can take its toll on older adults who have lost a spouse or find themselves without regular companionship. Loneliness also can be deadly. That’s why it’s important to seek out others if you find yourself -- or an aging parent -- home alone.
Q.I’m so lonely since my wife of 53 years died. I just don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t feel like doing much of anything including eating.
Please take your situation seriously as you are putting yourself at great risk. A growing list of studies is pointing to the deadly impact of loneliness, particularly on senior citizens. The latest says loneliness is a major risk factor in increasing blood pressure in older Americans and could increase the risk of death and stroke or heart disease.
Although this study was of people between the ages of 50 and 68, the problem increases with added years, which indicates it is more severe for senior citizens age 70 and older. A study found nearly 60 percent of the elderly in this group are experiencing some form of loneliness.
In the new study, scholars found that lonely people have blood pressure readings that are as much as 30 points higher than in non-lonely people, even when other factors such as depressive symptoms or perceived stress are taken into account, according to Louise Hawkley, Senior Research Scientist with the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, and John Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology.
This is equivalent to the difference between a normal blood pressure of 120 and a level of 150 which signifies Stage 1 hypertension, she said. Blood pressure differences between lonely and non-lonely people were smallest at age 50 and greatest among the oldest adults tested, those at retirement age.
The escalation of the problem with age gives further reason to consider those age 70 and over at the very highest risk.
You don’t have to be lonely, though. It is a choice, albeit sometimes a difficult one. Why not connect with other older adults at a church or synagogue. Or plan your weekday lunches at an area senior center. You may find other activities that you would enjoy as well.
Call your local Area Agency on Aging to discover other activities in your area that might appeal to you. Who knows? Your next best friend could be right around the corner.
Also, consider a caregiving companion from your local Home Instead Senior Care®. CAREGiversSM are screened, bonded and insured, and many are seniors like you. Companionship is one of the most commonly requested services. Call today to learn more.
For more about the study, visit http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/06/060328.loneliness.shtml
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