Loneliness Can Be Lethal (by Molly Bischoff)

Did you know, loneliness can have the health effects on a person equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day? Read that again, 15 cigarettes! (Source: https://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20180504/loneliness-rivals-obesity-smoking-as-health-risk) This is a very alarming yet enlightening statement. Thus, your physical health is directly affected by your perceived social interaction with others. Individuals who feel socially isolated have an increased chance of developing dementia, inflammation in the body, heart disease, reduced immunity, depression, suicidal ideation and impaired mental performance; all of which can have a large financial burden on societies.
Loneliness is defined by “sadness because one has no friends or company, the quality of being unfrequented and remote; isolation.” Hmm, have we not all felt this at some point over the last two years? This universal loneliness has wreaked havoc on those who have even the best coping mechanisms both mentally and physically. Have you ever wondered what it may feel like to be an isolated older adult? Chances are you may have experienced it at some point over these “COVID years.”
Dr. Etienne Krug, Director of the World Health Organization(WHO) Department of Social Determinants of Health explains, “As with other societal ills, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought these issues to the fore. Social isolation and loneliness have recently moved up the public policy and public health agenda in several countries.” Dr. Krug goes on to challenge, “WHO calls on all governments to give social isolation and loneliness the political priority and resources that they deserve, to ensure that all people benefit from a shared spirit of friendship and solidarity.”
What does the evidence suggest that can reduce social isolation and loneliness? Interventions aimed at individuals delivered either face-to-face or digitally, such as social skills training, peer-support and social activity groups, “befriending” services, and cognitive behavioral therapy can all have a positive impact. As a community we can have a much wider impact by being an Age Friendly Community which engages in improving transportation and digital inclusion, increasing social opportunities for all ages, reducing marginalization including being an advocate for ending ageism.
Stress combined with loneliness can have a profound effect on an individual. Financial trouble, health problems, and everyday obstacles may take a bigger emotional toll on individuals who lack social and emotional support. By reducing stress you can improve that feeling of loneliness and feel more connected. Some great ways to reduce stress include mindful breathing, taking a walk/hike with a friend, enjoying nature, taking a yoga class, phoning a friend, volunteering, reading, joining a club, biking, skiing, adopting a pet or keeping a gratitude journal just to name a few.
Thankfully we live in a community where all of the above are possible. So don’t let old habits, snow, cold or COVID get in your way. Take that first step to de-stress and integrate in the amazing home we call Chaffee County.
If you would like more information on Aging Strong and Aging Well in Chaffee County contact Molly Bischoff at mbischoff@chaffeecounty.org