The Truth About How Being Alone Impacts Seniors - Community Home Health Care (2023)

The Truth About How Being Alone Impacts Seniors - Community Home Health Care (1)

Aging, Better Living | February 22, 2016 | 4 |

Nobody wants to be alone. Unfortunately for many seniors, however, being alone is a reality of life. From people whose spouses have died to those with no family in the immediate area and few friends, isolation is a real issue, and it is one that can have disastrous consequences. Here’s what you need to know about the mental and emotional impacts of prolonged isolation on seniors:

What is Senior Isolation?

Senior isolation isn’t as simple as loneliness. While everyone feels lonely from time to time, seniors often experience a much longer-term and much more chronic version of this unpleasant emotion. This is because seniors often have spouses who are chronically ill or have died and, sometimes, they have little or no family in the area to help ease the emotional burden of those things.

Additionally, seniors generally have decreased mobility and are typically no longer working –both of which contribute to an isolated, sedentary lifestyle that can become a breeding ground for depressive symptoms.

On the same token, however, it’s important to remember that not all seniors who have given up many of their social pursuits are suffering from isolation. There is a definitive difference between people who are happy being alone and seniors who are experiencing legitimate senior isolation.

(Video) Health impact of social isolation, loneliness on seniors

Isolation by the Numbers

According to the U.S. Census, upwards of 11 million people ages 65 or older were living alone in 2010 and those numbers have only ballooned in the years since then. Often, these seniors do not have family and friends nearby to provide care and company and their spouses have passed away. While living alone doesn’t automatically mean that a person will become isolated, it does present a huge risk for the senior in question.

Here are some recent isolation facts that may shock you:

  • Isolation increases a senior’s risk of dying from all causes. According to a study conducted in 2012, adults ages 52 and older had a higher risk of mortality when they lived alone. This is due, in large part, to a decreased social network to provide aide and fewer people to notice a decline in the senior’s condition.
  • Loneliness is dangerous for mental and emotional health. As a general rule, seniors who live alone suffer from more physical and emotional conditions than those who live with families or spouses.
  • Loneliness is a risk factor for dementia. Seniors who live alone have higher rates of cognitive decline and dementia than those who live with other people. This is due to the fact that seniors who live alone receive less cognitive stimulation and social interaction than their accompanied peers.
  • Seniors who live alone are at risk for elder abuse. Isolated seniors experience elder abuse at higher rates than their peers. This is due to the fact that there are fewer people around to notice the signs of elder abuse or to put a stop to the poor treatment.
  • Isolation rates are higher for LGBT seniors. LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) seniors are much more likely to suffer from isolation than their heterosexual peers. This is because these people are less likely to have children and may be estranged from their families-of-origin.
  • Isolation can lead to chronic illness. Seniors who live alone suffer from things like depression, chronic lung disorders, and mobility issues at much higher rates than their peers.
  • Isolated seniors believe life will only get worse. Pessimism is rampant in seniors who live alone. According to one study conducted by the National Council on Aging, seniors who lived alone were much more likely than their peers to express concern that their quality of life would only decline within the next five years. This negative outlook has a poor impact on the quality of mental and emotional health across the board.

When Living Alone Gets Dangerous

AARP reports that upwards of 90% of seniors feel strongly about living in their own homes for as long as possible. While this is an understandable desire for seniors around the country, upwards of 5 million seniors in the country right now need daily assistance with day-to-day activities, such as cooking, bathing, eating, taking medications and getting dressed. While some seniors are lucky enough to have a friend or family caregiver or a third-party in-home care aide to provide them with these services, many are not and these are the seniors who are particularly at risk.

While there are many seniors who can still live alone safely, the following risk factors mean that it is no longer wise for a senior to remain uncared for:

  • Difficulty with medication management. If a senior can’t remember to take medication or routinely forgets that he or she has taken medication and takes more, that person is at severe risk of overdose and unintended consequences and side effects.
  • Forgetfulness. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, roughly 25% of seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia live alone. This places the senior at huge risk as memory loss of any type enhances the likelihood of missed appointments and preventable accidents, like fires caused by stoves left on.
  • Difficulty completing the activities of daily life. If a person can no longer cook, clean, bathe, or eat without assistance, it’s no longer suitable for that person to live alone.
  • Poor nutrition. People suffering from memory loss often forget to eat. Alternately, they may forget that they have eaten and consume far too much food on a daily basis. These things place seniors at risk for malnutrition or weight gain and should be monitored closely by a third party.
  • Difficulty with finances. If a senior is having difficulty managing money to the extent that utilities are being shut off or the senior is at risk of being taken advantage of financially, it’s time for that person to live with assistance.

Reducing The Impacts of Senior Isolation

For people with a family member that may be experiencing senior isolation, there are many things that can be done to reduce the impacts. Follow these steps to get started:

(Video) The Connect Effect: How Loneliness Affects Health in Seniors

  1. Understand the issue

The first step to decreasing senior isolation is to understand it. Is the person physically isolated from others because he or she lives in a remote area or is the person virtually surrounded by opportunities for social gain but simply unwilling to engage in any of them?

By understanding the root cause of the isolation, you can provide better solutions. For example, if a person is physically isolated due to their living situation, it may be wise for them to move to a more populated area or to move in with family members. If a person simply doesn’t want to participate, the key may be finding an activity he or she loves.

  1. Consider alternative solutions

One thing that is often incredibly helpful for seniors who are still able-bodied and lucid is a support pet. Pet therapy has been shown to reduce blood pressure and lower anxiety rates and, if it’s an option, the families and friends of isolated seniors may consider the involvement of a well-trained therapy animal.

  1. Provide mobility

One of the leading causes of senior isolation is a lack of mobility. Many seniors don’t drive and family and friends are often too busy to act as a chauffeur service. Fortunately, there are dozens of free or low-cost senior transport services available to help seniors regain mobility. These things can go a long way toward decreasing the dangers of senior isolation.

(Video) Health effects of loneliness and isolation in the elderly

  1. Look for volunteer opportunities

Volunteering is a fantastic way for seniors to combat the effects of isolation. By getting involved in a cause that is important to him or her, a senior can meet new people, regain social connections, and become active in a community once more.

  1. Enlist technology

Even if it’s impossible for family and friends to be near a senior at all times, technology can help reduce isolation. Studies have shown that seniors who have regular phone or Skype contact with friends and family are generally healthier and happier than their peers. In light of this, don’t be afraid to dial up grandma or grandpa for a daily phone call. In addition to being fun for both of you, it can actually help improve a senior’s health.


While senior isolation is a dangerous problem that affects millions of people, these five simple tips can help concerned caregivers, friends, and family reduce the symptoms and lessen the effects of loneliness. Additionally, caregivers and family members who know about the causes of senior isolation are better-equipped to respond appropriately.

(Video) Loneliness & Isolation | Aging Matters | NPT Reports


What is the impact on elderly living alone? ›

People who live alone often demonstrate changes in sleep patterns, distance themselves from others or show other signs of depression and anxiety. Social isolation leads to increased risk of chronic disease. People who are lonely are 29% more likely to have heart disease and 32% more likely to have a stroke.

What are the impacts of social isolation loneliness for older people? ›

Evidence reveals that social isolation and loneliness hinder good health—putting older adults at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, and even death.

How can living alone affect people's health? ›

"Lacking encouragement from family or friends, those who are lonely may slide into unhealthy habits," Valtorta says. "In addition, loneliness has been found to raise levels of stress, impede sleep and, in turn, harm the body. Loneliness can also augment depression or anxiety."

What are three impacts of social isolation on seniors? ›

Through research, we know that the negative health consequences of social isolation include impaired mental performance, a compromised immune system, and a heightened risk of chronic disease, as well as depression.

What are the dangers of isolation for seniors? ›

Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia. Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.

What happens to seniors without family? ›

Older adults who are aging alone and refraining from social activities and connections can lead to medical complications, depression, and a decrease in function and mobility. They're also more likely to have limited support in times of need and emergencies.

What is the impact of loneliness and isolation on an older person living within a care setting? ›

In older age, social isolation and loneliness increase the risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, cognitive decline, dementia, depression, anxiety and suicide.

What is the most common cause of social isolation among the elderly? ›

Older adults are at higher risk for social isolation and loneliness due to changes in health and social connections that can come with growing older, hearing, vision, and memory loss, disability, trouble getting around, and/or the loss of family and friends.

Is loneliness a problem with the senior citizens? ›

Older people are especially vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation – and it can have a serious effect on health. But there are ways to overcome loneliness, even if you live alone and find it hard to get out.

What are 3 health risks of loneliness? ›

Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, and even death.

What problems may you face when you live alone? ›

Problem: When you live alone, you're 100% responsible for doing things around the house. Home maintenance takes time, skill and sometimes you just need a second pair of hands! In terms of problems you face only when you live alone, this is near the top of the list.

What is the social impact of living alone? ›

Living alone can increase a person's risk of social isolation and loneliness and have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. A lack of social connection is proven to be harmful to our health – comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Why does social isolation cause health problems? ›

Mental and physical health are interconnected. Social isolation's adverse health consequences range from sleeplessness to reduced immune function. Loneliness is associated with higher anxiety, depression, and suicide rates.

How does social isolation affect quality of life? ›

Loneliness and social isolation have been associated with several negative health outcomes and health-related behaviors, such as mortality, cardiovascular disorders, functional decline and mental disorders [6].

How social isolation affects social skills? ›

Social and emotional isolation may lead to a person feeling a detachment from their own emotions or feeling numb. If a person lacks emotional support, interactions, or experiences an unwillingness to share with others, it can really impact the way they regulate their emotions.

What does loneliness do to the brain? ›

"Loneliness can change the neurochemistry of the brain, turning off the dopamine neurons, which trigger the reward response, and causing some degeneration in the brain when the reward response is not activated," says Katherine Peters, MD, PhD, FAAN, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Duke University.

What are signs of loneliness? ›

What are the main signs and symptoms of chronic loneliness?
  • Inability to connect with others on a deeper, more intimate level. ...
  • No close or "best" friends. ...
  • Overwhelming feeling of isolation regardless of where you are and who's around. ...
  • Negative feelings of self-doubt and self-worth.

What does isolation do to the brain? ›

These include elevated levels of anxiety and depression, deterioration of mental health, changes in diet and increased suicidal ideation, in addition to less physical activity and higher levels of experienced loneliness.

What is the golden rule for elderly? ›

The First Golden Rule of Ageing Is to Take Control.

As you grow older, it becomes crucial to maintain a healthy body weight as it can inadvertently affect the functioning of the rest of the body. When it comes to your diet, you should know that as you age, your body absorbs fewer nutrients.

What happens to senior citizens when they run out of money? ›

Exactly what happens to elderly adults with no money? In most states, Medicaid will pay for a nursing home for up to 100 days. But the grim reality is that elderly folks who run out of funding in an assisted living facility will get evicted. That's a common experience and a potentially traumatic one.

When can an elderly person no longer live alone? ›

Elderly parents who cannot take care of their basic needs such as cleaning, cooking, bathing, walking, or taking their medications at the right time should move into an assisted living facility. Mental, emotional, or cognitive decline can also indicate that your elderly loved one is no longer safe living alone.

What are risk factors for loneliness in elderly adults? ›

  • • Living alone1. • Being single, divorced, never married2. • Living on a low income3. • Living in residential care4. ...
  • • Bereavement5. • Becoming a carer or giving up caring6. • Retirement7. ...
  • • Aged 75 plus8. • From an ethnic minority community9. • Being gay or lesbian10. ...
  • • Poor health11. • Immobility12. • Cognitive impairment13.

What happens to a human when they spend too much time alone? ›

Loneliness raises levels of stress hormones and blood pressure. It undermines regulation of the circulatory system so that the heart muscle works harder and the blood vessels are subject to damage by blood flow turbulence.

Why does social isolation lead to dementia? ›

“One possible explanation is that having fewer opportunities to socialize with others decreases cognitive engagement as well, potentially contributing to increased risk of dementia.” Interventions to reduce that risk are possible, according to results of the second study, published Dec.

What mental illness is caused by social isolation? ›

Increased Risk of Anxiety and Depression

Continued social isolation increases the risk of developing disorders like depression and anxiety, but it can be especially harmful for those who already struggle with anxiety and depression, as it can exacerbate symptoms.

What are risk factors for social isolation and loneliness? ›

Factors that prevent people from engaging with others, such as long-term illness, disabilities, transportation issues, unemployment, or exposure to domestic or community violence, may increase social isolation and loneliness. Those younger than fifty are more likely to report loneliness than those age fifty and older.

What age is most lonely? ›

Young people feel loneliness the most

However, in contrast, the young report feeling lonely much more – with 40% saying they have felt this way at least some of the time. The BBC Loneliness Experiment surveyed 55,000 people and showed that 16–24-year-olds feel loneliness the most.

Is 70 too old to live alone? ›

Living alone at 70 and beyond can be difficult. Daily tasks become harder, and oftentimes, elders are afraid to ask for help. While some seniors might have friends and family nearby, others living alone don't have people they are comfortable asking to help them with: Meals.

How does loneliness affect mental health in the elderly? ›

They may disproportionately recall negative social memories and develop negative beliefs about themselves. Ways of thinking like this are associated with depression. The results suggest that tackling loneliness has the potential to reduce or even prevent future depressive symptoms among adults aged 50 or over.

What is loneliness as toxic as? ›

An isolation illness. Read more: https://wef.

How does loneliness shorten life? ›

Biologists have shown that feelings of loneliness trigger the release of stress hormones that in turn are associated with higher blood pressure, decreased resistance to infection and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

What is the hardest part of living alone? ›

One of the most difficult things about living alone is most definitely the financial element. Living with another person means all of the bills are split- you might spend a little less on things like gas, electricity and water when you live alone but for the most part, it's always going to be much more expensive.

Why is it so hard to live alone? ›

Even if you prefer living on your own, it's not always easy. You might value personal space but still have moments where you long for human interaction. Times of crisis that make it difficult to connect with others can isolate you and cause further distress.

What is a disadvantage of living alone? ›

Loneliness or Boredom May Strike

Feeling lonely or isolated is one of the biggest drawbacks to a solo living situation. While it may be nice to return to a quiet, empty home after a vacation or at the end of the day, it can be lonely when you're the only person home 24/7.

What are the pros and cons of living alone? ›

The Pros and Cons of Living Alone
  • Pro: More Personal Space. ...
  • Pro: Total Freedom. ...
  • Pro: You Can Decorate Any Way You Like. ...
  • Con: You're Responsible for Chores. ...
  • Con: All the Bills Are Yours Alone. ...
  • Con: You May Get Lonely Sometimes. ...
  • Pro: Cheaper Bills. ...
  • Pro: Shared Chores.
Aug 27, 2021

What do you call a person who likes to be alone? ›

November 2021) A loner is a person who does not seek out, or may actively avoid, interaction with other people. There are many potential reasons for their solitude. Intentional reasons include introversion, mysticism, spirituality, religion, or personal considerations.

Why social isolation is worse than loneliness? ›

Loneliness and social isolation are often correlated, but they are not one and the same. Loneliness is a subjective feeling. Social isolation is an objective condition. Research suggests that social isolation is a greater risk factor for health than loneliness.

What are the effects of living alone on elderly? ›

People who live alone often demonstrate changes in sleep patterns, distance themselves from others or show other signs of depression and anxiety. Social isolation leads to increased risk of chronic disease. People who are lonely are 29% more likely to have heart disease and 32% more likely to have a stroke.

What is the negative impact of social isolation? ›

Research has shown that chronic social isolation increases the risk of mental health issues like depression, anxiety and substance abuse, as well as chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. It also raises the risk of dementia in older adults.

What is the solution to elderly loneliness? ›

These include social skills training, community and support groups, befriending, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Creating more age-friendly communities by improving access to transportation and information and communication technologies can also help reduce social isolation and loneliness.

How does social isolation and loneliness cause mental health? ›

Feeling lonely can also have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time. Some research suggests that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.

Can isolation cause loss of social skills? ›

Not only does today's youth flourish while socializing with others, but they also learn and develop as people. Prolonged periods of isolation leave the basic human need of communication unfulfilled, making our social skills dwindle and regress.

How does social isolation cause cognitive decline? ›

The mechanisms that link social isolation with poor cognition may include the detrimental effect of a lack of social stimulation on the brain which may result in lower cognitive reserve, poorer resilience of the brain, and cognitive decline (Evans, Llewellyn, et al., 2018).

What are the barriers to independent living for elderly? ›

Barriers to independence include not so much age itself, but the ill health, frailty, increased need for medical attention, handicaps, and difficulties with the activities of daily living that are more likely to arise with advancing age. Another significant barrier can be lack of money.

What are the disadvantages of living alone? ›

What Are the Cons of Living Alone?
  • Loneliness or Boredom May Strike. Feeling lonely or isolated is one of the biggest drawbacks to a solo living situation. ...
  • Chores and Upkeep Are Your Own Responsibility. ...
  • Living Costs are Generally Higher.
Oct 20, 2021

Why living alone is challenging? ›

One of the issues with living alone is that bad habits can sneak in. This often includes things like going to bed on time, washing regularly and eating meals at vaguely 'normal' times. It's all too easy to start having lunch at 4pm, going to bed at 3am, and skipping a shower for 'one more night'.

What happens when you start living alone? ›

Once you start living alone, you will learn things about yourself that you never realized before. You will have time to reflect on your own needs and your own likes and dislikes, and you´ll also have more time and peace to focus on your well-being and happiness.

Is being alone a social issue? ›

Being alone may leave older adults more vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation, which can affect their health and well-being. Studies show that loneliness and social isolation are associated with higher risks for health problems such as heart disease, depression, and cognitive decline.

Why independent living is important for seniors? ›

Independence gives seniors a sense of purpose. They have opportunities for achievement, can contribute to the lives of their family, friends, and neighbors, and enjoy activities that they've always done. The chance to set and reach goals has a big impact, even if they seem small.

Why independent living is necessary for elderly? ›

Not having to rely on other people for some level of care, assistance or to make daily decisions, helps to promote a positive state of mind, as well as giving a sense of purpose in one's life. There are any number of solutions to assist the elderly, whilst maintaining their independence, when living in Aged Care.

What challenges do elderly homes face? ›

They are facing multiple problems in old age homes, these include psychological, physical, emotional, lack of facilities, and health challenges in an old age home.

When should you not live alone? ›

Here are some signs the your parent should not be living alone: They require help with activities of daily living (ADLs) They have experienced a significant weight loss recently. They suffer from a memory loss condition such as Alzheimer's disease.

Can living alone cause stress? ›

Adults living alone are more likely to have common mental disorders, including anxiety and depression — and the reason is loneliness.

What kind of people like to be alone? ›

Introverts can also sometimes be considered loners. These are people who enjoy time alone, not necessarily because they don't like being around other people, but rather because they are more interested in their own inner thoughts and feelings. Spending quality time by themselves is how they are able to regain energy.


1. A 5½ minute video on accepting the effects of ageing.
(West End Seniors' Network)
2. Home Equity Line of Credit - Dave Ramsey Rant
(The Ramsey Show - Highlights)
(Vouga Elder Law)
4. Build Your Church | Elevation Worship & Maverick City
(Elevation Worship)
5. Mental health awareness and impact of loneliness on the elderly. Art beyond the Science medicine.
(Mukul Shah)
6. Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care
(Cleveland Clinic)


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