The headline reads, Loneliness is a Killer! The Kansas City Star ran a story that says exactly that. Do you think that’s an exaggeration?
Here is what the latest research is telling us; social isolation is more lethal than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes day. Brigham Young University researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad found that since obesity is associated in the US with 300,000 to 600,000 deaths a year, the implication is that loneliness is a huge, if silent, killer.
Does the doctor ever ask the question?
I doubt that you will ever see ‘lonely’ as a cause of death on a death certificate, but loneliness increases inflammation, heart disease, dementia, and death rates.
During an annual physical do you think a physician would ask, “Are you lonely?” And if asked, how many older adults would answer that question truthfully? It is an awkward and even embarrassing question. Who wants to admit that they do not have friends, family or visitors that they interact with on a regular basis?
How does one go about finding out if a loved one or family member is lonely?
It takes some probing questions to get to the bottom of the question, but if you’re really paying attention it is not difficult to see it.
More than 50% of older adults are single and most of these are living alone. The nuclear family is deteriorating and more and more the social world exists primarily on the internet.
Our world is primed for an epidemic of loneliness.
When elders can no longer drive or participate in the activities they’ve enjoyed in the past or friends have passed away and the friendship circle is dwindling this isolation begins to grow.
Isolation manifests itself in watching TV all-day, refusing to get up and groomed for the day, declining invitations when they do come, sorrow and sadness spread. Many lose their appetite and lose track of the time of day, month or year. They forget medications and in general experience disorientation to time and space. They may literally lose their motive for living.
Is it dementia or just no one to talk too?
Sometimes loved ones will notice that their parent is retelling the same stories and assume it is a form of dementia. Actually, it may be because they spend so little time talking to people that they return to the same story again. The art of conversation deteriorates and there are no new stories to tell.
Is living in a community a possible answer?
There is one possible answer that may not be obvious at first. The ‘elder world’ mantra is, “I will stay in my own home as long as possible!” The problem is that being at home can be a prime cause of isolation.
Neighborhoods may deteriorate or even become dangerous.
Without the ability to drive safely or if one has to depend on a ride from someone, home becomes a prison of ribbons. Yes, it is nice to be surrounded by familiar things, but it may be the very thing that causes loneliness.
People in a community with others feel stronger, more resilient, and more optimistic about the future.
At The Piper Assisted Living, we have seen it happen over and over. A new resident moves in and their family describes them as reserved, quiet, and reclusive and they are suddenly open, active and totally engaged with others.
Their health wasn’t failing, they were lonely at home! Based on this research I think we can safely say that living in community will extend life expectancy and that life will be happier and more fulfilling.
Why fear living in Assisted Living?
There are so many benefits from living with a group of your own peers. Conversations about common experiences and interests stimulate memories and create new energy.
There are many concerns about moving out of one’s home, but the advantages outnumber the negatives. And truly it may be a life-saving move and for sure it is a cure for loneliness.
Holidays are a prime time for loneliness.
We are entering a very busy time of the year and that may intensify the sense of loneliness for your loved one. Why not investigate moving into The Piper Assisted Living where the true meaning of home and holiday is beautifully preserved and friends are waiting for a new neighbor to arrive. The conversation is upbeat and joyful in preparation for all the holiday festivities. Contact us, come for a tour and see what the cure for loneliness looks like!