We are living in an age where communicating with friends and family members almost anywhere in the world - takes less than a Siri voice request, a few mouse-clicks, or a couple of taps on a cell phone screen. In spite of all this, according to research, as a society, we are far more lonely than we have ever been before.
Research also shows that within our culture - there is no other age group that feels the sharp sting of loneliness any more than our growing population of the declining elderly.
The Travesty of Our Hidden Seniors
Recent facts show the findings regarding loneliness and aging for our burgeoning elder American population:
With 18 percent of America’s seniors living alone and 43 percent of them telling us they feel lonely on a regular basis, researchers are turning to the studies conducted by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
Loneliness generates undo amounts of stress. This means our seniors are much more likely to decline and die faster. This UCSF study also discovered that anyone who is 60-years-old and older who report being lonely - will likely see a 45 percent increase in their risk for early death. Our isolated seniors also have a 59 percent greater risk of both a mental and a physical decline than their more socially engaged counterparts.
It is also sobering to realize that a full 1 in every 7 people with Alzheimer’s disease live alone. Unfortunately, this is verified by a recently released report from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Another surprising fact; loneliness is actually contagious. Seniors who already feel really lonely have been found to become much more prone to act in ways that cause others not to want to be around them. Psychologists from the University of Chicago analyzed data from a recent project called the Farmingham Heart Study. This is a long-term, ongoing cardiovascular research project that found solitary seniors have a distinct tendency to isolate themselves even further by pushing people away.
The Big Surprise
Many researchers who reviewed this study discovered to their surprise that at least two-thirds of the older adults in the UCSF study reporting that they were lonely were found to be married or else living with a partner of some sort.
This surprise is a finding that only serves to strengthen any assertion that it’s really not about how many relationships you have—it’s actually about how meaningful those relationships actually are.
Why are Our Seniors so Lonely?
According to T. Byram Karasu, MD “They are lonely because they are alone.” As the chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Karasu goes on to state; “They [seniors] are put in nursing homes, assisted living communities, etc., and these are emotionally isolating, totally disorienting experiences.”
And when the senior is being taken care of by family caregivers, Karasu says that there is all too often very little attention paid to any sort of deep, engaging communication between the elder and the rest of the family. In general - our American culture has lost its ability to show respect and dignity to our senior population.
One way to help counter this trend locally, is to participate in the local “Be a Santa to A Senior” program sponsored by Home Instead Senior Care of Rohnert Park. With BASTAS Christmas trees available all over town, it is a simple solution for at least the Christmas season. If you wish to help alleviate a bit of the loneliness that comes to isolated seniors - please participate today.
Simply go to www.beasanttoasenior.com to find all our tree locations. Here in town Oliver’s & Raley’s markets both are huge BASTAS program sponsors. Please see a full list of our corporate and small business sponsors on our website. Or reach out to our head elf Mariclair O’Connell, Community Outreach Specialist firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-586-1516 .
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’s love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.