The link between chronic loneliness and mental and/or physical health problems is not new — being lonely increases a person’s mortality risk while also reducing their cognitive and mobility skills. The companionship offered in senior living communities can protect against loneliness and its side effects, however.
In fact, a new poll has revealed just how powerful companionship is for seniors. Learn more about the poll and the benefits of companionship for seniors in senior living.
The Effects of Loneliness on Seniors
The new poll, “Loneliness and Health,” was conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. Researchers asked more than two thousand adults across the country above the age of 50 about their behaviors, health outcomes and social lives.
One-third of the people polled said they lacked companionship and 60% of those who lived alone said they felt lonely. The poll found that older adults who lacked companionship were more likely to have poor mental and physical health. They were also more likely to suffer hearing loss.
On the other hand, those people who had regular companionship had fewer mental and physical health problems. This poll adds to the growing body of evidence that shows that spending time with caregivers or living in engaged senior living communities can offer residents many health benefits.
Research Shows Benefits of Companionship for Seniors in Senior Living
Researchers behind the poll encourage members of the general public to reach out to their parents or senior loved ones who might be lonely and re-engage them in the community.
A recent article by A Place for Mom shows that assisted living has many advantages, including an enhanced social life for seniors and other benefits like:
1. Better nutrition.
The nutritional benefits of a shared meal can contribute to improved mental and physical health. The “Loneliness and Health” poll found that while only 13% of seniors who have companionship reported being in poor health, 26% of those who feel lonely reported being in poor health.
At assisted living communities, residents often share a meal together. This is valuable for several reasons. First, it motivates the person to make the time for meals, which they otherwise might neglect. Secondly, it gives caregivers the opportunity to monitor the resident’s nutrition. Few older adults get the nutrients they need when they live on their own. In fact, one in three seniors is malnourished.
2. Increased fitness.
Older adults who spend time with companions engage in physical activity, at least to head out of their room to see their family and friends. This small level of activity can help maintain mobility levels. Those who rarely leave their house or who don’t walk outside of their home move less and lose their bone density, flexibility and muscle mass.
Further, companionship tends to offer even more healthy physical challenges. Some older adults meet their friends for physical activities, whether it is Tai Chi or water aerobics. These types of activities are usually included in the cost of an assisted living community and are often held on-site. Being connected to a community of peers can motivate older adults to participate in physical activities that they otherwise may not be exposed to. Assisted living communities also generally have trainers, equipment and exercise tools that allow older adults to modify an exercise to their ability level. Ultimately, staying active with the support of an assisted living community will help seniors stay healthy and maintain their mobility.
3. Prevention of cognitive decline.
The activities older adults partake in with companions, from book clubs to card games, keep them intellectually engaged. Challenging their minds and learning new things helps seniors feel engaged in their world and prevents loneliness from happening in the first place. Those who are already lonely who start to partake in intellectual activities once or twice a week may be able to prevent cognitive decline for longer.
There are many options for intellectual stimulation in assisted living communities. Recreational therapy programs are often tuned to the precise interests of each resident So, if your parent enjoys chess, gardening or guest lectures, they can participate in those hobbies again.
4. Prevention of depression and other mental illnesses.
Companionship can help prevent depression and mental illness among older adults. Research has demonstrated that isolated seniors are 27.6% more likely to suffer depression than those who have companionship.
Not only do older adults feel more emotionally connected to and supported by other people when they have regular companionship, but those companions can also help with daily living tasks if needed. When seniors have their cooking, laundry or other routine tasks cared for, they feel less helpless and more in control of their living situation, which helps to prevent mental illness as well.
Gaining more companionship, whether from caregivers or from living in a senior living community, offers older adults many benefits. This one simple change can help improve a person’s body, mind and spirit.
Have you, a parent or senior loved one experienced the benefits of companionship in a senior living community? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.