Health effects of loneliness and isolation in the elderly

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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Some Northern Michigan University nursing students are working with Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly to shed a light on how loneliness and isolation can effect the elderly.

For many elders in the Upper Peninsula, living in isolation is already difficult enough. But, dealing with it during a pandemic can have a big impact on the elderly and their health.

“Nearly 1/4 of adults age 65 and up were considered to be socially isolated before COVID. These numbers have gotten worse since COVID,” said Brandalyn King, an NMU nursing student. “But there aren’t necessarily exact statistics yet. Older adults are at increased risk for factors such as living alone, loss of family and or friends, and chronic illness and hearing loss. Among this population, immigrants, those in the LGBTQ+ community, minorities, and victims of elderly abuse experience loneliness and social isolation more than other groups.”

There are three different ways loneliness can be described:

  • Situational Loneliness – this includes various environmental factors. For
    example- unpleasant experiences
  • Developmental Loneliness – an unbalance of the desire for intimacy or need
    to be related to others.
  • Internal Loneliness – the perception of being alone, low self-esteem, poor
    coping strategies and feelings of guilt can cause this.

Loneliness and isolation in the elderly can increase rates of anxiety, suicide, and depression.

“There’s four times the risk of premature death. There’s a 50 percent increase in dementia, 29 percent increase in heart disease, a 32 percent increase in stroke,” said NMU nursing student Nicole Austin. “Loneliness among heart failure patients is associated with a 4 times the risk of death, 68 percent increase of hospitalization, and 57 percent risk of emergency department visits.”

Here are some ways to brighten up your day:

  • Adopt a pet
  • Join a club
  • Make plans for a day that you know will be tough
  • Schedule phone calls or video chats
  • Physical activity
  • Create a regular routine

There are many different resources to reach out to if you’re dealing with isolation and loneliness:

  • Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) – A network across America that provides information and assistance with meal programs, caregiver support, nutrition information, and more.
  • Eldercare Locator – A free service that helps to find local resources for the senior population, such as financial support, caregiving support, and transportation.
  • National Council on Aging – A place to find what senior programs are available to help with healthy aging and financial security. It is made up of nonprofit organizations, governments, and businesses.
  • AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) – Provides information to seniors on how to improve quality of life and ways to find community connections. Its membership is open to all people above 50 years old.
  • Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly – A national nonprofit, volunteer-based organization committed to relieving isolation and loneliness among the elderly.

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