The Health Effects of Social Isolation on Older Adults

Human beings are inherently social creatures. Throughout our lives, our relationships with others are critical to our survival, cognitive development and ability to make sense of the world around us.

As infants, we relied on our parents and caregivers to feed, clothe and protect us. In grade school, our relationships with our peers helped us establish values like trust and reciprocity.

But when we reach middle and older age, it becomes harder to meet new people. Sadly, this is one of the times when we need those meaningful social interactions the most.

Aging and Social Isolation

As we age, our contact with others becomes more limited due to life events like finishing school and leaving the workforce. We may be more likely to experience the death of a spouse or loved one. Aging may also increase our risk of developing chronic disease and health conditions that make it harder to drive and meet a friend for lunch.

All of these experiences may increase our risk of social isolation, which is described by the National Institute on Aging as the “objective physical separation from other people.”

Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience have linked the experience of social isolation with myriad health conditions, including anxiety, depression and high blood pressure. Limited social interaction can also increase our risk of developing chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, obesity and heart disease.

“Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases,” said Steve Cole, Ph.D., director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, in a recent article published on the National Institute on Aging website.

“The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease.”

People who feel socially isolated may also have weakened immune cells, he said, making it harder for the body to fight off viruses and putting them at increased risk of developing infectious diseases.

Overcoming Feelings of Social Isolation

Spending quality time with friends, family and neighbors isn’t the only way to overcome feelings of loneliness and social isolation. According to the National Institute on Aging, people who engage in meaningful hobbies may also be at a lower risk of developing the health conditions associated with seclusion and social withdrawal.

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine said participating in activities like reading, playing board games and practicing musical instruments can decrease one’s risk of developing dementia. Another study published by Washington University’s Center for Social Development showed that people who enjoyed hobbies like cooking or gardening lived longer than those who did not.

Participating in meaningful activities like caregiving and volunteering can also give one a sense of purpose, which the National Institute on Aging says is linked to a healthier immune system.

An All-In-One Solution

For many older adults, moving into an assisted living community can ease the feelings of loneliness and social isolation in multiple ways.

For one, you gain instant access to a network of like-minded peers who are likely to share your interests and passions. Some residents may not have experienced the kind of camaraderie offered by an assisted living community since they were in school or the workforce.

At Sonata Senior Living’s Florida assisted and independent living communities, residents also enjoy a robust offering of game nights, volunteer opportunities and interest groups.

These events and activities make it easier to get to know your new neighbors. They also provide the sense of purpose and fulfillment that the National Institute on Aging says can help support a healthier and happier retirement.

To learn more about Sonata Senior Living’s Florida assisted living communities,
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