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How feeling lonely can negatively affect one’s health

A 2012 study by the University of San Francisco found that 43 percent of the people over 60 in this country report feelings of loneliness. This is more than a feeling of sadness. Being lonely can pose a risk to physical, mental and cognitive health. Here are some of dangers of loneliness and some strategies to increase socialization.

Physical risks
When a person is lonely, there may be a tendency to overeat or eat a poor diet which can lead to obesity or high blood pressure. Many people who are lonely spend hours watching television instead of being active, which can lead to weakness and other conditions including osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer. People who are lonely may also be less concerned about their health and skip medications or other needed treatments. When feelings of loneliness do arise, there is often an increase in the level of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone affects the production of white blood cells and can reduce the ability to fight infections making a person more likely to become ill.

Mental health risks 
People who are lonely are less likely to take part in activities that stimulate the brain. When a person does not have social interaction, the brain spends longer periods of time in an unfocused, dream-like state making it harder to concentrate and complete tasks. Playing bridge with friends or participating in a conversation allows the brain to be mentally stimulated and ready to complete daily tasks. Having people to talk with helps fight off feelings of depression or isolation and boosts a sense of belonging and self-esteem, two of the important factors in mental health.

Cognitive health risks
One of the greatest fears in today’s society is developing Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. Articles published by AARP point to many studies that show seniors with a large social group are less likely to develop dementia. Although everyone will experience significant changes in the brain as we age, those changes have less effect on people with a large social network. The field is still being studied but everything from memory loss to dementia appears to be linked to loneliness.

The best defense
The more socialization, the better seems to be the message from most researchers. Even a simple conversation with another person can make a difference. Having one relationship is good, two are better but three or more seem to have the biggest impact. The best way to establish relationships is to be part of a larger social group like a bowling team or church community.

Mental and physical exercise are also important. Challenging the brain to learn something new by attending a class or learning a new skill helps maintain cognitive function. Many community colleges offer non-credit classes specifically designed for older adults who want to learn for the sake of learning. Travel can also be a way to connect with others and have new experiences. Most physical activities, like walking or bowling, provide both exercise and socialization. Volunteering is another great way to feel connected and gain self-esteem. The more connections you can make, the better off you will be.

Isolation and illness 
Recovery after an illness or surgery can be a lonely experience. When you are unable to move freely and need to rest, you are also unable to interact with work colleagues, friends and family. A decreased energy level can lead to laying alone in bed for hours on end. The motivation to follow instructions for therapy is often affected and can make recovery take even longer.

To combat this possible isolation, many people wisely choose to recover in a short-term care facility where they can be surrounded by caring staff who connect with guests in numerous ways, from offering encouragement to providing needed medical care. Whitehall of Deerfield is one of the North Shore’s premier choices for short-term care. It has consistently received Medicare’s highest rating in Medicare’s five-star rating system of nursing and rehabilitation centers, as well as receiving U.S. News & World Report’s  highest “Top Performing” rating, making it one of the best options for short-term care in the area.

When it comes to care, few can match Whitehall of Deerfield’s outstanding full-range of therapies targeted to meet each guest’s individual needs. Physical, occupational and speech therapists work one-on-one with guests seven days a week. State-of-the-art rehabilitation gyms provide all the equipment needed to reach your highest level of independence and functioning. Care is consistent, compassionate and skilled at every level.

Extra attention is given to meals at Whitehall of Deerfield. Guests can choose to dine in their room or join others in beautiful dining rooms that feature full-length windows. The solarium dining room offers a view of a classic fountain that is sure to please. The on-staff registered dietitian ensures that each dish is as nutritious as it is appetizing. There are also delicious extras like gourmet coffees, ice cream refreshments and fresh-baked goods offered throughout the day.

Whitehall of Deerfield is filled with luxurious features from valet parking for visitors to concierge services and a Wellness Spa for guests. To see all that is offered, arrange a tour by calling 847-945-4600. For more information, visit whitehallofdeerfield.com.

300 Waukegan Road Deerfield, IL 60015 | 847.945.4600