The Effects of Loneliness on the Mind & Body: How Seniors Can Overcome Potential Pitfalls

guy on bench
Sara Hinson

Sara Hinson

The Effects of Loneliness on the Mind & Body:
How Seniors Can Overcome Potential Pitfalls

guy on bench

Loneliness is a natural human emotion, one that most people have endured at some point in their lives, whether due to the loss of a spouse or a lack of social connection. But chronic loneliness—lasting week, months, or years—is a serious condition that can have major impacts on both mental and physical health.

The worldwide effects of the COVID-19 virus have highlighted the gravity of chronic loneliness. Stay-at-home orders and quarantines mean many people are socially isolated, thus leading to a deep-rooted sense of loneliness. In fact, some experts are referring to it as the “loneliness pandemic.”
Yet, loneliness is not the same as being alone. Some individuals can be surrounded by friends and family and still feel lonely due to a lack of true connection. Likewise, some individuals, especially introverts, thrive on solitude, as they are able to turn inward to meet their own emotional needs.

But for most people, social engagement is crucial. Human beings are a social species, and the need to connect with others is fundamental—not only to health and wellness, but to survival. Conversely, loneliness can have serious health consequences on both mind and body, including the following:

High blood pressure. Numerous studies have shown that loneliness may increase blood pressure. Loneliness causes stress, and the release of stress hormones impacts blood pressure. The risk increases as we age, with another study showing a 14.4 mm increase in blood pressure in lonely participants aged 50 to 68.

Heart disease. Loneliness is also linked to a 29 percent increased risk of heart attacks and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke—on par with that of smoking or obesity, according to researchers. The risk of serious complications, or even death, is especially high among those who have already been diagnosed with heart disease.

Type 2 diabetes. New research has shown that people over the age of 50 who report feelings of loneliness are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. It is believed to be caused by the body’s natural response to stress, including the release of stress hormones.

Dementia. One study shows that loneliness is associated with a 26 percent increased risk of dementia, as well as a 105 percent increased risk of mild cognitive impairment. Social isolation leads to reduced cognitive stimulation, which is itself a risk factor for dementia.

Shorter life expectancy. Loneliness has been estimated to shorten a person’s life span by as much as 15 years. Not only can it lead to disease, it can prevent the body from responding to treatments for existing ailments, including cancer.

Maintaining Health by Preventing Loneliness at Cumberland Village

Living at Cumberland Village is like having a built-in social network. Opportunities abound for making new friends, and many of the scheduled activities and events are designed for residents to get to know one another. In addition, the staff are trained to look out for the signs of loneliness and to provide residents with the necessary resources to overcome this serious health condition.

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