Loneliness and the Brain
The Harvard Study of Adult Development looked at the effects of lonely men in a 75-year longitudinal study. What they found was that overall, the more isolated people were, the less happy they felt. Researchers found that along with the regression in general health, the brain function declines as well. Those who are lonely exhibited a difference in brain function compared to non-lonely people-as per Medical Daily. It is thought that in lonely people, the brain is in a heightened state of alertness, on guard for threats and possible danger from strangers. Psychology Today reported being socially isolated can cause the nervous system to switch to “self-preservation mode.” This unnatural state of the brain leads to changes in personality such as defensiveness and abrasiveness, even when there is no impending threat.
So, what can be done about loneliness for those seniors with AD? Here are some tips to share with family members and friends of loved ones with AD (particularly those who live alone):
• Allow the person to ventilate feelings of grief or loss and/or loneliness
• Acknowledge emotional pain
• Keep in mind that many people don’t want to admit they feel lonely
• Loneliness carries with it a stigma (much like Alzheimer’s disease)
• People need social connections to feel accepted and for a sense of being grounded
• Social interaction helps people of all ages to thrive while increasing resilience
• Support groups for socially isolated seniors are available
• Collaboration between friends & family (to coordinat times to visit those with AD)is helpful
• Many adult day centers are equipped to offer social interaction to those with AD
• Consider professional support (such as hired caregivers or adult day centers)
If you or a loved one with AD is concerned about the effects of loneliness, CLICK HERE to take an online self-assessment evaluation sponsored by AARP Foundation. The website called Connect2Affect was recently launched with a goal to create a network to raise awareness and identify solutions for isolation and loneliness in the elderly population. The site also offers resources for those who may feel isolated to find ways to get more connected in the community.
Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by CLICKING HERE to join our 25 lesson FREE course at AlzU.org today.