Covid 19 changed how society functions and the way people interact in some very unexpected ways. Due to increased vulnerability related to the pandemic, seniors are at an increased risk for social isolation and loneliness. But, what are the effects of social isolation on the individual, and what can we all do to improve the situation for everyone?
Seniors Are Especially Vulnerable
Because they are the segment of the population that is most likely to live alone, seniors are especially vulnerable to the effects of social isolation and loneliness. Social isolation occurs when individuals have little to no social interaction with other people. Social isolation can affect the physical and mental well-being of the individual and result in a marked decrease in their quality of life, as they are less likely to be active members of their community.
Cognitive decline is one of the main signs that a person suffers from social isolation. Human beings are social creatures by nature, which can be seen in brain studies. Certain parts of the brain light up when we see another human, which forms unique connections in the brain. But, when those connections aren’t made, it can lead to adverse memory and brain function changes.
Depression is a Serious Issue
While everyone feels down at some point, depression causes changes in how we think and act. While life events can buy on depression, there may be a genetic component to the disease. Symptoms to look out for are a persistent anxious or empty mood, decreased energy, and changes in appetite. If depression is suspected, it’s essential to have a licensed medical professional evaluate the individual. Depression is a very treatable condition.
Social Isolation Causes Changes in the Sleep Cycle
Social isolation can cause changes to an individual’s sleep cycle, which can cause ill effects throughout the body. When the body sleeps, the brain takes care of basic maintenance tasks that cannot occur while awake. When an individual gets too little sleep for an extended amount of time, that sleep deprivation causes a severe reduction in those body processes.
Physical symptoms attributed to not getting enough sleep include slower thought processes and reduced alertness, leading to poorer decision-making. This symptom can be especially dangerous if operating a vehicle or heavy machinery while in this state. Lack of beneficial sleep can negatively affect memory care and make it difficult for the brain to learn new skills.
Places Individuals at Increased Obesity Risk
Social isolation places seniors at greater risk of developing obesity and other related disorders like type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. When people engage in socially active forms of physical recreation, some fantastic things happen to both the brain and the body. Many of these benefits continue long after the activity has been completed.
When the body routinely engages in moderate physical activity, particularly with other individuals, it improves mental health and a significant increase in emotional well-being. The impact of physical activity on mental health is so overpowering that it can treat both depression and anxiety. Evidence shows that exercise can positively impact a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
Obesity contributes to social isolation and increases the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. But, when an individual develops obesity or becomes overweight, they are at a higher risk for osteoarthritis and body-wide joint pain. Osteoarthritis makes movement difficult, making it much more difficult for the person to gain control over their weight.
Loneliness Could Cause Increased Inflammation
Research is currently being conducted on the effects loneliness has on the body. Preliminary research shows a connection between feelings of loneliness and the increased inflammation caused by the immune system. Chronic inflammation is associated with gastrointestinal complications, mood disorders, and certain cancers.
Ways to Decrease Social Isolation Risk
Lowering the risk of social isolation while remaining safe can be challenging while navigating a worldwide pandemic, but it can be accomplished with planning and taking necessary precautions. Engaging in outside physical activity can provide a mood lift and beneficial exercise. Volunteering time to help others also helps lift self-esteem, cure loneliness, and help to increase those positive connections in the brain.
Taking an active role in memory care living will result in opportunities to foster engaging social contacts and improve mental well-being. Living an enriched, independent life will assist seniors in the fight against social isolation and loneliness.
Summerfield of Roseville provides the gold standard in senior living, and we are your partner in successful aging. Contact us today to schedule a tour at 916-772-6500.