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Loneliness and Isolation — Two Reasons to Think Twice About Aging in Place

Lonely senior man sitting by himself on a bench

You need people in your life. Especially as you grow older. Your physical and mental health depend on it. A growing body of research shows that loneliness not only makes life miserable for older people, but also leaves them vulnerable to illness and disease.

Ironically, most of us express a desire to “age in place” or remain in our current residence indefinitely — perhaps for the rest of our lives. Though that’s understandable from the standpoint of familiarity and simplicity, it’s a choice that can come at a heavy price.

Risks of social isolation

Strong social connections are central to our physical and mental well-being, according to findings from the National Council on Aging, and older people need to feel involved and valued by those near them. But when older adults become disconnected and isolated — which often happens when they choose to age in place — there can be negative health consequences that include impaired mental performance, a compromised immune system, heightened risk of chronic disease and clinical depression. This study claims the health risks of prolonged isolation in older adults are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Other studies have linked loneliness to a range of health problems that include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart attack and strokes.

Other findings indicate that social isolation in seniors leads to a significantly higher risk of developing dementia. One investigation, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, found an association between feelings of social detachment and the development of brain biomarkers common in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.

The National Institutes of Health reports that social isolation — having few social relationships or infrequent social contact with others — along with loneliness — a subjective feeling of isolation — affects 43% of adults ages 60 and above in the United States. A six-year British study tracking more than 2,000 people age 50 and over found that the loneliest subjects were nearly twice as likely to die than the least lonely — a 14% greater mortality risk than the general population. This figure means that loneliness has roughly twice the impact on an early death as obesity.

Senior living helps social well-being

If you’re worried about your own social well-being or that of a loved one, consider these questions:

  • Do you feel isolated or left out?
  • Do you feel like you’re lacking companionship?
  • Do you wish you had more visitors?
  • Would you like help connecting with others?

Senior living communities offer aging adults a place to be themselves and to be with others. They have their own private residence with plenty of social space to spend time with friends and peers. Social activities are a cornerstone of senior living communities. Residents participate in purposeful activities and can easily meet new friends in dining, social clubs, exercise classes, creative pursuits and spiritual opportunities offered by the community. In addition to group activities, senior living communities often have libraries, gardens, media rooms, and other personal spaces that people can enjoy on their own if they so desire.

Living in a communal environment like this all but eliminates feelings of isolation. Spending time with others in truly authentic relationships helps create an increased sense of belonging and connectivity, a higher quality of life, reduced risk of depression, and perhaps even greater life expectancy in the absence of isolation’s most damaging factors.

Discover Opus from 2Life Communities

At 2LifeCommunities, our Opus initiative offers the services and opportunities seniors need for engagement rather than loneliness and isolation. Friendship and connection provide direction and purpose, and residents are given the opportunity to volunteer in an endeavor they find engaging and that aligns with their interests. If care services are needed, rather than moving the resident to the care, the Opus model brings care to them — right in their apartment. There are very few situations that would require leaving Opus to receive care, but if something does go wrong, professional team members are available to respond around the clock, every day.

Learn how life at an Opus community from 2Life can be the antidote to loneliness and a gateway to fulfillment for you or any older loved one in your life. Contact us today to find out how to become a member of our Priority Program.