We all get lonely from time to time, but did you know that prolonged loneliness can actually worsen or even cause physical health problems? Some of these are problems caused by behaviors associated with loneliness like alcohol consumption and general lethargy, but others are physical health problems directly caused by the psychological feeling defined as loneliness.
First of all, what exactly is loneliness? It is more than simply being alone. Loneliness is feeling alone. Loneliness is a perception more than an actual physical state. Very few of us are actually entirely isolated from the outside world, but many of us feel lonely because we crave a human connection that is not there. Unfortunately for those who suffer from loneliness, negative behaviors caused by loneliness, like a lack of confidence resulting in poor self-esteem, can actually drive people away and make lonely people even lonelier because they realize that they are part of the cause of their own problem.
How can physical health be affected by loneliness? Numerous studies have shown that loneliness can cause clinical depression. Other problems include depressed cardiovascular health, increased stress leading to increased hypertension, and a negative effect on decision-making skills. All of these chronic problems can lead to more acute issues. Severe depression can lead to suicide. Poor cardiovascular health and hypertension can increase risk of a stroke and lead to other, more serious chronic conditions. Poor decision-making can lead to any number of problems—one of the most common being seniors who are tricked into giving out personal information over the phone simply because they are craving a little human contact.
How do you combat loneliness? Visits from friends and family can help, but they may not be enough. Loneliness is not a simple state of mind to cure. One or two visits a month from children and grandchildren don’t significantly change how a person feels the rest of the time. In order to feel less lonely, they need a person either actually in the house with them or someone who visits regularly enough that true loneliness cannot set in between visits.
Unfortunately, because of distance and time constraints, most people cannot visit with their elderly family, friends, and neighbors on a daily basis to impart the numerous benefits of regular contact, so loneliness cannot always be staved off entirely through visitation. A simple solution may be some level of in-home care. A senior living alone will benefit both from the physical care provided by such visits and through the psychological benefits of having regular contact and conversation with another person.