Loneliness and its impact on your health

Published 9:01 am Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Loneliness. Almost everyone has felt lonely at one time or another, but as we age, dealing with chronic loneliness can affect every part of your life and can increase your risk for health problems.
Aging often involves the loss of a spouse, loved ones, friends, or a pet. A recent move or relocation, no longer being allowed or able to drive can also be a trigger. Some, as they age, withdraw from social connections, making the feelings of being alone even more intense. Although some seniors experience these feelings, it is not a natural part of growing older. In fact, many seniors can establish and maintain feelings of social connection.

The challenge is that it can be difficult to tell if someone close to you is affected by loneliness. Also, as some of us know firsthand or have learned, many seniors don’t like to admit they need help – for anything. So, it’s possible that someone close to you could be covering up that fact that they’re lonely, and their symptoms can be easily confused with normal signs of aging. Some of the signs of loneliness are:

A noticeable increase in negative thinking and pessimism
A dramatic change or sudden neglect of their hygiene and personal care
A lack of motivation and/or drop in energy levels
An onset of mysterious aches and pains
A declining interest in socialization which may include reaching out to you either more or less often
An increase in activities such as shopping as a way of coping with loneliness
Taking more hot baths or showers as substitutes for the warmth of human contact

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Loneliness can affect your health. In fact, the impact on your body has been compared to the effect of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being lonely has also been linked to a 26% increase in the odds of premature death. According to The Journals of Gerontology, some of the health problems that loneliness can exacerbate include high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and diabetes, and people who describe themselves as lonely have higher levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” and often have weaker immune systems.

There are many ways to overcome loneliness, but they all require some effort on the part of the person dealing with the issue. Some are as easy as increasing your social interactions by getting involved at your local Senior Center, going to an exercise class, volunteering, or joining a club that plays your favorite card game. These all provide you the opportunity to meet like-minded people.

Learning to use technology can help through applications like Zoom, giving you the chance to have “face-to-face” time with friends and family. Having a pet if you’re able to do so and can care for it properly is a great solution. Even a robotic dog or cat has been proven to reduce loneliness. Scheduling emails, calls and visits with family or friends can make a big difference.

There are some volunteer organizations that can arrange personal visits and may provide other services that help lessen a senior’s loneliness such as Meals on Wheels where some of their clients have reported that seeing another person during meal deliveries reduced their feelings of isolation. Other volunteer services may be able to arrange regular phone calls, and your local Area Agency on Aging can often help you find services that fit your needs.

Chronic loneliness can have far-reaching effects in our lives. But there are many ways to improve our feelings of connection with other people. If you feel lonely, start talking about it with someone such as a medical professional. Remember: You’re not alone in your feelings. And help may be available.

Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. You may contact him by phone at
(828) 696-9799 or by email at: drron561@gmail.com.