High blood pressure. Obesity. Heart disease. Anxiety. Depression. A weak immune system. Cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease… Even death.   

Those are the conditions that affect lonely seniors at higher rates than those who have meaningful relationships.  

Dr. Steve Cole, Ph.D. says, “Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases.” He continues, “The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease.” 

The statistics: How loneliness affects elderly patients

If you’re the type of person who likes to see the numbers, we get it—so are we. Here are the statistics from the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC). Loneliness in elderly patients is associated with increases the risk of: 

  • Dementia by 50% 
  • Heart disease by 29% 
  • Stroke by 32% 
  • Hospitalization by 68%  
  • Emergency visits by 57%  

And the most shocking statistic: loneliness increases the risk of death by four times.  

Overall, the CDC says that the health effects of loneliness rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. It’s known as the “loneliness epidemic.” Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation, says, “This is a very real public health crisis.” 

Connection is essential to keep seniors healthy—both mentally and physically.  

What is loneliness?

Chances are: most of us have felt lonely before. Emphasis on felt. Because that’s exactly what it is: a feeling. The CDC explains that loneliness is the feeling of being alone.  

Loneliness and social isolation are not one and the same. A person could be surrounded by people, yet still, feel alone. Another person could be socially isolated, yet not feel lonely.  

“Loneliness is the discrepancy between what you want from your relationships and what you actually have,” says Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine’s Brain Dynamics Laboratory.  

The goal is to help seniors avoid the distressing feeling of loneliness—even if they’re physically alone. 

A deep dive into elderly loneliness

When it comes to experiencing loneliness, seniors are the most at-risk members of society.  

The CDC notes, “Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation, because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss.” Here are some more risk factors for loneliness in elderly patients: 

  • Retirement 
  • Loss of mobility  
  • Lack of transportation  

40% of Medicare enrollees feel more lonely since November 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the isolation epidemic. 

Does technology build connections?

50% of older, educated Americans say the internet has been essential in helping them adjust during the pandemic. But it’s not as simple as just connecting seniors to the internet.   

“The solution is not just to say we are going to give everyone an iPad,” says Laura Trejo, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Aging. “What are they going to do with it?” Instead, here are some of the best ways to use technology to combat elderly loneliness:  

  • Engaging online courses 
  • Virtual senior fitness classes 
  • Online community services 
  • Zoom or phone calls  
  • Classes to teach seniors how to use technology 
  • And finally…healthcare technology is an amazing area to help seniors ward off loneliness.  

Healthcare interventions are key

Loneliness leads to health problems, but the opposite is also true: health problems lead to loneliness. For example, 1 in 3 seniors have hearing loss, which leads to them feeling lonely. 

Another risk factor for loneliness is having a chronic illness. Psychology Today writes, “Symptoms and treatment often require withdrawal from the world.”  

Due to the interconnectedness of health conditions and loneliness, healthcare interventions are key. Medical professionals can help patients manage the underlying health problem that’s causing loneliness. Ultimately, this intervention will lead to less health issues down the line. 

What we’re saying is: Healthcare interventions are extremely important to help seniors ward off loneliness.  

The American Society on Aging writes, “Loneliness and isolation should be assessed and treated in the same way as other issues concerning health—through screening and appropriate intervention.” Here are how healthcare interventions can help lonely seniors: 

  • Periodic assessments for loneliness 
  • Inform seniors of the adverse health effects of loneliness 
  • Make efforts to connect seniors with social care 
  • Determine and treat the underlying health issues that are causing loneliness 
  • Recommend therapy 

And finally, take the time to build a relationship with your patients. 

Be a friend to your patients

Another way healthcare professionals can help is by fostering a connection with elderly patients. In fact, you might be one of the only relationships your patient has left. Taking a few extra minutes to show empathy can make all the difference in your patient’s life.   

When you’re communicating via a healthcare platform—for example, video chatting or messaging—you’ll want to be more verbal. During in-office visits, patients can read your body language. That’s not true when you’re providing healthcare virtually. Here are our tips for being a virtual “friend” to your patients:   

  • Let your patients know you’re listening. 
  • Be curious about your patient. Ask questions to understand your patient—including questions that aren’t necessarily about medicine. 
  • Acknowledge the patient and their feelings.  
  • Show support.  
  • Share extra resources. 
  • Treat the patient how you would want a family member to be treated.  
  • Ask for feedback. 

Even if you’re communicating virtually, showing empathy leads to better health outcomes for patients.  

Social messaging elevates healthcare platforms

Connection is key to helping seniors avoid long-term health problems and needless suffering. That’s why we built a healthcare app that allows patients and providers to build meaningful relationships. And the Ōmcare Home Health Hub® was born. It’s a customizable telehealth portal.   

Here are a few things you can do with Ōmcare:  

  • Connect with patients in real-time via video or chat 
  • Provide face-to-face care 
  • Help patients feel less lonely and manage their conditions 
  • Provide medication management (prescribe medications, provide accurate pre-slit packages of multi-dose medication at the right time, and track adherence)

Reach out to Ōmcare today to learn more.