Social Isolation and Loneliness among Older Adults and Its Effects on Health, Well-Being, and Quality of Life

Abstract

Loneliness is a growing health concern for seniors, and it is a contributing factor to other serious health issues. Other than the psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, this issue has several other physical health complications that could lead to death. Several research findings attest to this problem even though several areas remain unexplored. Besides using samples from a limited area, these results are skewed in their definition of loneliness since they rely on the perception of isolation from the participants’ view. As such, there is vast unexplored information about isolation and its effects on old people.

 

Social Isolation and Loneliness among Older Adults and Its Effects on Health, Well-Being, and Quality of Life

Tremonti’s article discusses the harmful effects that loneliness poses to Canadian seniors. In this report, a psychologist explains that the level of solitude for the older adults in the country is increasing every day. Citing the death of close friends and the children concentrating on their lives after maturing, the psychologist argues that this class of Canadians continues to experience the effects of living alone (Tremonti, 2016). Notably, the issue is so massive that some people think that it borders a public health crisis. Additionally, loneliness as a psychological trauma affects the mental and immune system. Citing Statistics Canada, the article mentions that around 1.4 million seniors in Canada complain of loneliness. Those above 80 years explain that over 80% of the time, they feel lonely, which makes it a serious public health predicament. While lonely people are likely to neglect their health or adopt unhealthy lifestyles such as drinking and smoking, there are also high chances that they will experience desperation, depression, and a sense of neglect.

Although people use social isolation and loneliness interchangeably, there are possibilities that one might be isolated and not lonely. In this regard, it might be difficult to draw a clear difference between the two terms. However, a more favorable explanation of loneliness is about how a person responds to the feeling about social connections. Notably, this feeling emanates from a detachment from close social associates such as a spouse, family, member, parents, and children (Steptoe, Shankar, Demakakos, & Wardle, 2013). This way, people feel a sense of loss and emotional distance when such elements remain a distance from them. Several pieces of research show that loneliness in old people can lead to social disorders as well as other traumatic psychological disorders.

According to Fees, Martin, and Poon (1999), there is a strong link between social isolation and physical wellbeing among older persons even though the predictive direction remains ambiguous. The authors studied the relationship between social network, cognition, personality, and age as ingredients of loneliness while considering self-assessed health as the linkage between them. While using a sample of 208 residents between the age of 60 and 106 years from the southern region of the U.S., the study showed that health was not mediate in the relationship between the above factors. However, the self-imposed loneliness was a significant link between perceived health and personal characteristics.

The primary purpose of the research was to establish whether loneliness affected one’s perception about health. In this regard, the authors sought the nexus of loneliness, self-assessed health and the nature of social networks, personality, age, and cognition. Therefore, they collected a sample of 208 participants from the State of Georgia. It comprised both genders and different races in varying compositions. Additionally, their health status ranged from good to excellent while the level of education decreased with increase in age. Notably, variables for measurements included cognition, social network, emotional stability, tension, and apprehension. On the other hand, loneliness was measured as a mediator as well as an outcome.

The results of the study indicated the loneliness has a significant implication on health. In this regard, those professionals that deal with seniors should recognize the relationships of their clients. Additionally, the knowledge that alleviating loneliness is a huge milestone towards improving the overall health of their patients is essential to that effect. Besides this aspect, they ought to realize that loneliness is prevalent with increasing age, especially among those senior persons who live alone. However, telephones are necessary tools for maintaining relationships among adults who live independently. On the other hand, anxiety is a primary ingredient of perceived loneliness, and therefore, perceived ill-health. Even though the research was limited in the way participants viewed solitude, it is evident that loneliness could precipitate overall ill-health among old people.

Misra and Singh (2009) also conducted research about the relationship between loneliness, sociability, and depression in old age. They concede that this class in the society is significant and continues to grow every day. Additionally, the elderly face many changes in the social psychological and physical roles that affect the sense of self as well as the ability to live a happy life. As a result, they feel lonely and depressed in the old age due to a complex web of reasons such as living alone, broken close family links, and fading relation to their cultural practices. The result of these factors is their inability to participate in community activities.

The purpose of the research was to establish how depression, loneliness, and sociability among older adults relate to each other. In additional, the study examined gender differences as it relates to the same factors in this class of people. To this effect, the authors collected a sample of 55 elderly persons comprising men and women between the age of 60 and 80 years. The participants completed questionnaires that required them to rate their situation according to the given instructions. Later, the researchers used sociability subscale, Beck depression inventory and revised UCLA to obtain results.

Even though there are no significant differences in gender among the elderly in respect to loneliness and depression, men are more sociable compared to women. On the other hand, there was a positive relationship between loneliness and depression, which is a corresponding increase in the level of depression in relation to increased loneliness among men and women. Additionally, the results exhibit a significant relation between isolation and depression in either sex, Even though the study used a significantly small sample of elderly persons, which could affect the outcome, there is substantial evidence that loneliness has a detrimental effect on the psychological health of older people. Such conclusions emanate from the results indicating a correlation between loneliness and depression as well as sociability.

Kinsella (2014) conducted a review about social isolation and older people using evidence from various sources of evidence. She views loneliness as a subjective feeling of dissatisfaction but concedes that it has several impacts on society, communities, and individuals. Even though this feeling could affect a person at any age, it is usually common to older persons due to impaired mobility, the death of relatives or close friends, and reduction in income. The outcome of the reviews indicates that lonely and isolated people are prone to stigma, which occurs mostly in older people since they cannot participate in social activities.

The author combined findings from various research organizations to establish what effect loneliness has on the mental and physical health of the seniors. For example, the Bristol Council showed that loneliness has a negative effect on the recovery of elderly patients suffering from chronic health conditions. Another research found that loneliness had a contribution to the development of dementia even though this condition is prevalent in older people. While she noted that group-based support and one-to-one support could be extraordinary efforts in reducing solitude among seniors, it is worth pointing out that this issue has some adverse outcomes on the well-being of older individuals, especially the mental aspect. However, Kinsella’s research is largely based on third party data from various sources and may not represent the entire class of senior citizens.

According to Luo, Hawkley, Waite, & Cacioppo (2012), there is a profound relationship between loneliness and health as well as death rates among the seniors in the United States. While the authors agree that isolation is a grave and common social and public wellbeing concern, they are privy to the fact that over 40% of adults report feeling lonely. To this effect, they conducted research to establish if loneliness contributed to mortality rates among old people. As such, they used a sample of 2,101 adults with the age of 50 years and above. Further, the respondents confided their feelings when left out and isolated from others. Later, the researchers used the Revised UCLA Loneliness scale to obtain several findings.

The results of the study indicated that solitude has a detrimental impact on wellbeing and mortality. Notably, older adults with high levels of isolation are nearly two times likely to die in less than six years compared to those with comparatively lower degrees of loneliness. On the other hand, respondents who had close friends in the neighborhood were less lonely. As such, social relationships may influence mortality since family and friends exhibit social control through encouraging healthy habits. Therefore, the research corresponds to the belief that loneliness has a significant effect on the health of older individuals in society.

Finally, a report by Saxena, Harper, Dua, & Yasamy (2010) for WHO shows that social isolation is among the many ingredients of mental health problems in older people. It is indisputable that older people are increasing every day, and they are likely to experience adverse general mental and health problems due to several factors. However, family interactions and social support are some of the factors that may boost the mental sanity and dignity of older persons in a community. The remedies for such negative implications of loneliness include involving communities and families to support the more elderly citizens by maintaining social connections among other activities that could keep their brains active.

Despite all this research about loneliness and its effects on old people, there remains vast unexplored information about the same. While some of the research conducted relies on a limited sample from selected areas, the concept of loneliness is dependent on the perception of the respondents. As such, there is a need to have a means to establish the exact feeling of isolation as well as expand research to accommodate larger social contexts that include socio-economic and regional differences. However, this research information makes a massive contribution to the field of psychology as it touches on sensitive health issues affecting a class of people in society. To this effect, there is valuable information about the relationship between isolation and the health concerns of the older individuals in society.

 

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