Mental Health in the Elderly and their well-being are as important in older age as at any other time of life.
Human beings are social animals and our biological, psychological, and social systems evolved to thrive within networks of people. In many societies, social networks are likely to thin as people age, leading in many cases to isolation and loneliness.
Social isolation affects health and mortality. Some studies suggest that the impact of isolation and loneliness on health and mortality are of the same order of magnitude as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking. The underlying effects of isolation and loneliness on health include conditions such as Cardiovascular, inflammatory, hormonal, sleep-related, and emotional stress.
Health Effects of Social Isolation and Loneliness
Since social isolation and loneliness are common in older adults, their adverse effects on health in old age is on the increase. Pre-existing health conditions, such as immobility and depression, can themselves both contribute to ill health as well as increase isolation and loneliness. It is also challenging to distinguish social isolation and loneliness from one another; not all who are isolated are lonely and not all who are lonely are alone.
Not all people experience “aloneness” in the same way. A person is considered socially isolated if they live alone, have less than monthly contact with friends or family, and do not belong to a group (religious congregation, club, work, or organisation).
Most of our elderly loved ones have isolation imposed on them through the death of loved ones, family and friends moving away, impaired mobility, and other situations leading to depleted social networks and isolation. People in these situations may be more likely to experience loneliness and to feel isolated.
There is a complex relationship between health, mortality, and social isolation in old age. There is strong evidence that many older adults feel isolated, and that loneliness is associated with poor health and higher rates of mortality. The effect of social isolation on health appears to be of a similar magnitude to other risks to health, such as high blood pressure, smoking and obesity.
In summary we can strongly say that social isolation and loneliness among older adults is a significant public health issue.