Seniors beware: Loneliness is a fast track to frailty

Loneliness is something we’ve all experienced at one time or another.

Maybe a friend or adult child moves away… a loved one passes away… or a co-worker switches jobs and your lunch buddy is now gone.

But in time you adjust, hopefully. Though the feeling is difficult to navigate, it’s fleeting.

However, feeling lonely isn’t always short-lived, especially for seniors.

In fact, far too many older adults live in a “chronic” state of loneliness often brought about by isolation. They may lack social connections or have mobility issues that keep them from getting out and about like they used to.

For these seniors, loneliness poses risks far beyond their mental state.

That’s because according to research from a team of scientists at Amsterdam University Medical Center, loneliness significantly affects physical health, leading to frailty and upping the risk of social isolation.

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Just as harmful as smoking

The isolation many of us experienced during the pandemic led researchers to investigate the downstream effects of social isolation on seniors.

Specifically, they delved into the relationship between loneliness and frailty, which encompasses factors involved in physical deterioration including:

  • Weight loss
  • Reduced walking speed
  • Decreased muscle strength

Not only does frailty determine how likely seniors are to fall, but it’s also a fast track to a nursing home and the new number one risk factor for dementia.

Previous research has also shown that frailty can lead to a decrease in social contact, causing people to become lonelier as they become less mobile.

After analyzing the results from more than 130 studies, the scientists have now proved that this relationship can also work in reverse.

In other words, just as frailty leads to more loneliness, loneliness leads to increased frailty. This in turn increases the risk of health problems like depression, falls and cognitive decline.

It’s no wonder that the U.S. Surgeon General has declared loneliness just as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day!

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Battling back loneliness and the health issues it causes

Caring for your mental and social health is vital to preventing frailty and physical decline.

So embrace strategies to cope with loneliness like:

  • Finding a new hobby and inviting others to join you in it
  • Volunteering at your favorite charity or church (my mom has found this to be a wonderful way to feel more connected and reduce her loneliness)
  • Scheduling regular time with your family or friends
  • Spending time with your pet comes with big benefits including preventing loneliness and depression

In addition to addressing issues with loneliness, be sure to also take steps to combat the frailty-related health problems social isolation may have already caused.

This can include getting more of the sunshine vitamin since research has shown not getting enough vitamin D in older age may drive the development of frailty.

Just be sure to take an appropriate dose, since a study in the journal Nutrients found that, “To slow the progression of frailty, it actually took greater amounts of vitamin D than what is currently considered sufficient for a human.”

CoQ10 is another nutrient to include in your fight against frailty and physical decline.

That’s because research has shown that as we age, levels of CoQ10 drop right along with lower levels of physical activity. That means we lose our capacity to exercise, resulting in a vicious and dramatic cycle that worsens our physical ability.

Finally, consider the Mediterranean Diet since researchers at University College London found that people who follow the diet are substantially less likely to get weak, slow and dependent on others.

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Loneliness increases the risk of health deterioration in older adults – EurekAlert!

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.