Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Loneliness in older adults: Does it impact health and functioning?
Too often, older adults become isolated from social, community, and family activities that they once enjoyed. Risk factors for loneliness or social isolation in older adults include:
- Widowed or without a domestic partner
- Lack of family support- either by geographic distance or estrangement
- Not connected to a church or faith based community
- Unable to drive or inadequate access to transportation
- Live in rural areas
- Functional limitations, mobility challenges, mental health or cognitive impairments
- Live alone
- Lack of financial resources
- Multiple, poorly managed chronic health conditions
- Deaths of friends and family members
In general, the more of these risk factors an individual has, the more likely he or she is to be impacted by social disconnectedness. And social disconnectedness often leads to loneliness. Chronic loneliness exacerbates the aging process and can have a significant negative impact on an older adult’s health and functioning.
Research has found that loneliness is a common source of suffering in older persons. It is also a risk factor for poor health outcomes including death and multiple measures of functional decline. (1)
The numbers of older people affected by loneliness and isolation are striking. According to the new AARP Foundation website Connect2Affect: (2)
- 17% of American adults 65 and older are isolated
- Research shows a 26% increased risk of death due to subjective feeling of loneliness
- 6 million adults 65 and older have a disability that prevents them from leaving their homes without help
- 51 percent of people 75 and older live alone
The majority of older Americans report that they want to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible. However, many people become lonely and socially isolated and as a result, experience functional declines that put them at risk of maintaining their independence and living in their home.
Very simply put, offering lonely older adults opportunities for meaningful social engagement, volunteering, recreational activities, and human connectedness, can significantly decrease negative health outcomes and functional declines.
Luke Reynolds, LMSW
Luke Reynolds is a Licensed Social Worker and Executive Director of LifeCircles PACE – a Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly. LifeCircles PACE provides an all-inclusive, comprehensive model of care focused on helping frail older adults remain living in their own homes.