Serious Health Effects of Loneliness and Isolation: Why Community is Key
We humans are social creatures by nature. It has nothing to do with being an introvert or extrovert. It has nothing to do with where we live – urban or rural. It’s honestly in our DNA - so much so that our mirror neurons (which is a real thing, by the way) quickly pick up on each other’s emotions when we spend time together. It’s what allows us to, almost immediately, empathize with someone else. We mirror one another’s brain activity too when we do things like watch a movie together or listen to a story together. Interesting, right?
Stating that 2020 was a hard year is an understatement. For those who live alone but are typically social people, this was an extremely difficult year. In the U.S. almost 30% of the population lives by themselves. According to a report on aging by the Administration for Community Living, 13.8 million people in this country live alone. Living alone, however, doesn’t automatically equate to loneliness. People who stay active and connected with others will often stay relatively healthy, after all they are engaging in social interaction and touch, keeping those mirror neurons working. It is those who don’t reach out to others, who have lost a spouse or closest friend that are at a greater risk of developing health problems.
According to a report in the National Institute on Aging, isolation in the older population can cause cognitive decline and depression. Other studies have linked social isolation and loneliness to a higher risk for a variety of other physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, malnutrition, a weakened immune system, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death. When we lose a sense of community our perception of the world changes, too. Some people living in isolation begin to mistrust others. Feeling threatened by the outside world actually actives a biological defense mechanism in our body. According to a study by Dr. Steve Cole, Ph.D., director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, some people living in isolation begin to mistrust others, perhaps even feel threatened.
No one wants to feel lonely.
For seniors living alone this year it has been tremendously stressful. The highly contagious COVID-19 virus has forced us to social distance, lockdown at home and isolate more. Some families have stayed in touch with their elderly relatives, helping with groceries, visiting outside from a distance and talking over video chat services but it’s just not the same has sitting with them face-to-face or hand-in-hand to connect. As the months get colder there are fewer door-to-driveway chats and for a shorter period of time. The lack of physical touch is another concern for those in isolation.
Virus or no virus, this year has taught all of us many valuable lessons like the importance of a safe and comfortable home, a community of supportive people, the importance of staying active even if it’s in a small space and the benefits of eating healthy meals. The vaccine will hopefully reduce the threat of contracting COVID-19, but, even if we get back to some since of normalcy, all of those research studies about loneliness still hold true.
If you’ve managed to avoid COVID-19, congratulations! If you’ve noticed however, that you or a loved one has struggled with the excessive isolation of 2020, it could be helpful to look into senior living. At Melrose Meadows, you can live right next door to others who are a lot like you. You can stay active and reach health goals safely in our community. You can forget about home maintenance and housecleaning. You can eat healthy with our dining program. You can find friends to connect with. And, you can find alone time when you need that too.
If you would like to learn more about Melrose Meadows, give us a call. We are following CDC COVID-19 protocol and are open for scheduled tours. Why live an isolated life? Come see for yourself how others have turned their backs on loneliness and found an active and meaningful lifestyle.