The implementation of physical distancing is an essential step in reducing transmission of the virus. Unfortunately, in an effort to flatten the curve, physical distancing may be causing social isolation and loneliness. Although loneliness and social isolation can affect anyone regardless of age, the elderly are particularly vulnerable, especially under the current conditions of the pandemic.
“The frail elderly are particularly at risk because of limited (or impaired) physical mobility, less autonomy, increased vulnerability to infections and immunological depletion, cognitive decline, chronic health conditions, lower injury thresholds and higher recovery times,”
Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the Brain Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine.
Social isolation and loneliness do not always go together. Loneliness, unlike social isolation, is a subjective feeling. According to Lisbeth Nielsen, director of the division of behavioral and social research at the National Institute of Aging, loneliness is the “sense of suffering from being disconnected from other people, which is different than social isolation which is simply not being around other people or not having close connections.”
Social isolation can also lead to feelings of loneliness. Observational and correlational studies have linked persistent feelings of social isolation and loneliness with a higher risk of developing certain mental and physical health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and even premature death.
“Loneliness also triggers a stress response that there is an imbalance in our social homeostasis,” Cacioppo said. This biological phenomena has been associated with increased inflammation and a hyper-activation of the immune system, which, according to experts, contributes to some of the chronic diseases that older adults are already more vulnerable to developing.
The health consequences of loneliness may also manifest as changes in routine and self-care. Is your loved one still keeping a routine, getting up at the same time every morning, going to bed at the same time? Do they have food in the house, are they preparing meals and keeping up with bathing? These are some simple examples of everyday routines which may become neglected over time in those suffering from isolation and loneliness.
Many older people who are following stay-at-home or isolation guidelines are finding that they are cut-off from the types of activity that bring meaning or purpose to their life, communal activities, recreational or exercise or just face-to-face social interactions that they are used to having. An individual in-home care plan with a reputable and accredited provider can not only serve to manage their care, but can also relieve some of the effects of isolation during a pandemic.
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