Social isolation and life expectancy

Life expectancy moved from under 50 years to over 70 years over the course of the 20th century.  Persons born between 1946 and 1964 add up to approximately 76.4 million people who are beginning to enter the 70-year mark.  This large group of people are balancing their own needs, as many are still working, along with those of living parents and for some grandparents.  In addition, this group of older adults, due to having fewer children than previous generations, along with a higher rate of divorce, are experiencing more social isolation.

Loneliness does not appear overnight.  Over years a person may become more isolated by small degrees.  Friends and relatives die or move away, mobility slowly starts to restrict activity and sometimes problems such as incontinence, deafness and fear of falling keep people more isolated.

Prolonged isolation can damage the immune system, leaving people more vulnerable to infections.  It can also affect the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart and circulatory problems.  Lack of social interaction has also been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The role of companion/homemaker care provides a level of social integration that is not always credited for its role in abating loneliness.  Social isolation has been described as the hidden killer, causing serious health problems which can have devastating consequences.  Social relationships can be more than family and friends; qualified non-medical home care service is one of the most overlooked opportunities to improve quality of life.  Studies by scholars such as Karl Pillemer and Elaine Wethington from the Department of Human Development & Sociology at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, are proving the importance of maintaining social connections and resources from middle age and beyond is essential as the foundation for successful aging.  

Written by:  Ramona K. Hunt M.S., Touching Hearts, Inc.

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