As many seniors and their family members may already know, loneliness can pay a real toll on one’s mental and physical well-being. In fact, Harvard Health recently published an article claiming that loneliness affects as many as 25 to 50 percent of the senior population in the U.S. Given the nature of a cognitively debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the percentage of lonely seniors with Alzheimer’s (particularly those with dementia) are at the higher end of the spectrum.
The terms loneliness and isolation are not interchangeable. Isolation refers to the number of social contacts and level of interaction one has with others on a regular basis. Loneliness is the subjective perception of just how a person feels relative to friends and socialization.
Statistics related to isolation issues being so common in seniors can result from many factors including, lack of transportation, physical immobility, the loss of a spouse or life partner, death of friends, retirement,and many other factors. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, these limiting factors are compounded with dynamics such as, fear of stigma, cognitive decline (adversely effecting communication and memory), depression, and a decreased interest in hobbies and social activities.
Health Statistics on Loneliness and the Elderly Population
Prolonged loneliness can contribute to emotional disorders, carries about the same health risk as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, and is almost as common in the United States today as obesity, says Harvard Health. Overall, it is estimated that long term loneliness in the elderly population can easily shorten the lifespan by as many as 8 years.
Not only does loneliness adversely affect symptoms of dementia, a 2007 study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease is more than double in seniors with chronic feelings of loneliness.
To learn more about topics for Alzheimer’s caregivers, CLICK HERE to join our 25 lesson FREE course at AlzU.org today. CLICK HERE to read Part 2 of “How Loneliness Affects Seniors with Alzheimer’s Disease” and learn what you can do help your loved one fight the battle against loneliness.