The decision to move yourself or a loved one into assisted living is fraught with many layers of emotion overlayed with worry, practical concerns, and the desire for the best outcomes. There is a lot to think about. Among your considerations are physical autonomy, finances, and social interaction. Research into the effects of social connections—or the lack thereof—shines a light on some of the effects of loneliness and isolation on cognitive functioning and mental health.
Loneliness affects the brain chemically in ways similar to the brain’s response to physical pain. The longer a senior lives alone and experiences isolation for long stretches, the greater the risks for mental health consequences, including depression. Prolonged isolation and loneliness can also trigger or exacerbate dementia. The good news is that finding solutions to isolation and loneliness can improve mental health and cognitive outcomes.
Loneliness and How It Impacts Dementia
Whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert, used to having large friend circles or just a few best pals, everyone feels lonely when isolated for extended periods. Phone calls and Zooms do not replace the benefits of person-to-person contact.
Socially isolated older adults:
- Perform less well on cognitive tests
- Decline in skills tests more rapidly than those who are not lonely
- Process information more slowly
- Develop dementia at a 20% higher rate than others
The brain responds to social isolation not as one specific influence but through pathways that include those linked to poor sleep, hypertension, inflammation, reduced physical activity, and depression—all of which are linked individually to loneliness.
Alzheimer’s specifically has been traced to the build-up of certain proteins in the brain that are linked to negative thinking and psychological distress, both of which accompany extreme loneliness.
Loneliness and Other Health Concerns
Both physical and mental health are affected by isolation and loneliness. Loneliness carries similar risk factors to smoking, alcoholism, and obesity when it comes to longevity outcomes, ER visits, and heart disease.
Depression among the aging population is also a serious public health issue. It is common enough that some people assume it is a natural part of aging. It is not. Loneliness and social isolation significantly increase the rates of depression among seniors, and social activity can mitigate those effects.
Protecting your brain health as you age can be done, in part, by maintaining relationships. In fact, there is nearly a 25% reduction in the risk for dementia among those who report satisfying human connections. Supportive relationships raise that percentage to 55%. These startling statistics show us that when older adults are able to connect socially and avoid loneliness, their brain health improves, and their mental health and cognitive outcomes are much better.
If you are an older adult who lives alone, has limited access to other people, and is experiencing social isolation, finding a quality assisted living residence is a possible solution.
Here at MDSL we provide a sense of Community, social events, activities, and mental, emotional, and physical engagement on multiple levels which intern leads to enormous difference to brain health, emotional equilibrium, and mood.
From our family to yours
Dr. Mel R.