March 3, 2016

Seven Neglected Areas That Sabotage Healthy Aging – P7

Isolation and loneliness are problems for people with diabetes and the elderly. I admit I have not blogged about this topic, as I have not felt isolated. However, lately some of my health problems are starting to make me withdraw from interaction with others. I do have a wife that can make life funny at times and since she also has type 2 diabetes (treated with metformin at present), we do have some tense discussions about my health.

Both isolation (not having a lot of social contact with others) and loneliness (the feeling of lacking social connection) have been linked to declines in physical health. A 2012 study found that 43% of older adults reported feeling lonely; over the next 6 years, they were more likely to lose physical abilities or die. Loneliness and isolation have also been linked to decreased immune function and greater risk of depression. I have not felt depression and feel fortunate that my positive attitude has prevented depression, as type 2 diabetes can be a strong risk for depression. In the past, I have had minor bouts of depression, but they have not lasted more than a week to 10 days.

The elderly who live alone or have been bereaved are at particular risk, especially if health problems are interfering with their ability to get out. But, even people who are in proximity to others, such as family caregivers or seniors residing in a facility, may suffer from feeling lonely.

Studies have found that certain psychotherapies, including mindfulness, can help reduce feelings of loneliness and even inflammation in the body. However, another study found that isolation seems to be a stronger risk factor for premature death than loneliness, so it’s important to relieve social isolation as well. Arranging more social contact usually helps. It’s also vital to address any health concerns (including fear of falling, incontinence, or pain) that may be keeping a senior from getting out and socializing.

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