Loneliness and social isolation can not only be a psychological hardship for seniors living alone, they can also have a direct impact on the physical health of older adults. Research has found that chronic loneliness can create a stress response in the body, increasing the hormone cortisol, which can raise blood pressure and decrease blood flow to vital organs.
According to a September 5 New York Times report, loneliness can also cause a danger response in the brain which affects white blood cell production, compromising the body’s ability to fight off infection.
With a clearer understanding of the serious effect social isolation can have on older adults, greater efforts are being made within communities to offer seniors regular human contact along with a stronger sense of community.
To help tackle senior loneliness, hotlines such as The Friendship Line (800-971-0016), staffed by the Institute on Aging in San Francisco and The Silver Line (0800 4 70 80 90), a 24-hour call center for older adults in the United Kingdom, have found success in helping provide seniors with much needed social contact. The Friendship Line also makes on-going outreach calls to elderly adults who feel lonely, depressed and isolated.
Nearly a third of seniors over the age of 65 live alone in Britain and the U.S. and loneliness can cause a decline in health and in some cases despair leading to thoughts of suicide. Reaching out to call a senior, even just once a week, can help give their lives meaning and promote good mental health.
Hotlines are just one solution to the social isolation many seniors face. A majority of callers are women but men may not be as at ease phoning a hotline for conversation. Community centers that host exercises classes, book clubs or other activities also give seniors an opportunity to regularly interact with others. Men’s Shed initiatives throughout Australia, England, Scotland and Ireland give older men a familiar place of companionship where they share skills, tools and stories, while working on individual or group projects. To learn more about Men’s Shed visit: http://menssheds.org.uk/ .