Feeling lonely and isolated can disrupt sleep, raise blood pressure and cause other health problems.
Loneliness can strike people of all ages, but for seniors the effects can be particularly overwhelming. In fact, research from a University of Chicago professor indicates that extreme loneliness and social isolation can make an older person 14 percent more likely to die prematurely.
John Cacioppo, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, discovered that the effects of severe loneliness and social isolation on premature death were almost as profound as the effects of poverty, which may increase the chances of dying prematurely by as much as 19 percent.
It was also noted that a 2010 study discovered that loneliness has double the impact on premature death than obesity does.
Cacioppo and his researchers found significant differences in the physical and mental health of older adults who were lonely and socially isolated versus those who were socially active. The researchers looked at how important rewarding relationships were in helping older people build resilience, or the ability to quickly recover from stressful or adverse situations in their lives.
When the two groups were compared, the physical and emotional consequences of loneliness and social isolation were apparent. Older adults who were socially isolated were more prone to disrupted sleep, higher blood pressure, elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, during the morning and an increase in depression.
To ward off loneliness at an older age, Cacioppo suggests that elderly adults keep in touch with family members, friends and former co-workers. He also recommends joining in on family traditions and activities when possible, and sharing in fun times with family and friends. These are all useful ways for seniors to connect and share moments with people they care about the most, which is important for maintaining social, emotional and physical health.
As Cacioppo says in a statement released by the University of Chicago, fulfilling that dream of retiring to Florida “isn’t necessarily a good idea if it means you are disconnected from the people who mean most to you.”