Monday, March 26, 2018

Why Loneliness Kills Seniors--and Some Ways to Combat It

What is the greatest health threat in the aging population?
  • Smoking?  No, but don't start the habit now.
  • Obesity?  Bad, but it doesn't rise to the top.
  • Cancer?  Very dangerous, but something else has it beat.
The answer:  Loneliness. 

Surprised?

Bruce Frankel isn't.  He explored the topic last December in a presentation "The Loneliness Epidemic" for a national group called The Society of Certified Senior Advisors.  If you work with seniors, have an older parent or relative or you are a senior yourself, this information could help change a life.

"Isolation and loneliness constitute the greatest public health hazard for the aging," said Frankel, quoting John Cacioppo, who headed the University of Chicago's Center for Cognition and Social Neuroscience until his death earlier this year.

Some 42.6 million seniors suffer from chronic loneliness, caused by factors including a loss of social confidence, and a loss of friends and social contacts as their world shrinks, Frankel says.

Here are frightening results of loneliness:

1.  Lonely people have a 50% greater risk of early death compared to those who have social connection.

2.  Loneliness increases the risk of stroke by 32%, dementia by 64.9%.

3.  Loneliness affects the body's physiology:  it increases cortisol, damages white blood cells, impairs the immune system and increases inflammation.

More affects of loneliness, according to Frankel:  "When we're lonely, we become hypervigilant.  We perceive more danger than we otherwise do.  We become hypervigilant to signs of rejection and judge our relationships weaker than they are.  We are more defensive, more aloof."

Steps Away From Loneliness:

1.  Don't deny it.

2.  Understand what it does to the body and especially the brain, and how it interferes with interactions with others.

3.  Respond.  Find at least one person to trust.  As you move forward, seek out like-minded people to connect with. Consider volunteering.

4.  Expect the best. 

Do you have personal experience with loneliness?  How do you and/or others combat it?

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