The Importance of Companionship

As humans we are social creatures by nature. Evolutionary scholars will tell you it's a matter of survival, and there is a lot of evidence to support this. We need each other in order to navigate the complexities of life. For early man, this was most definitely true, but with modern advancements in technology, social media and online shopping, why is companionship still so important?

Subjective vs. Objective Loneliness

Real life human connection is important at any age, and especially so for older adults. Researchers outline there are two kinds of loneliness: the objective kind when a person is physically alone or socially isolated. Subjective loneliness is more of an emotional state, when a person feels they are alone when they are not physically alone.

For seniors, moving from their life-long home into a skilled nursing center or an assisted lifestyle community (like at The Villas Senior Care Community) can result in feelings of subjective loneliness. They are surrounded by caregiving staff and other residents, but they are in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people. They may feel isolated emotionally in this new place and have a difficult time making friends with whom to spend time.

Objective loneliness can occur with seniors who are living alone at home. Without a social network outside the home, a person can become lonely very quickly and experience adverse side effects.

Side Effects of Loneliness

The physical and mental side effects of loneliness create a long list, and many are conditions that seniors are already more susceptible to having.

  • Depression. Being alone is a catalyst for depression as the social isolation can cause people to fall further into a cycle of being alone and feeling lonely.

  • Inflammation. This is a genetic reaction that dates back to the early days of man (and woman). Isolation is seen by the body as a threat to our survival. Being alone increased our risk of attack by animals or other humans. This increase in inflammation was a defense mechanism to help protect our bodies from injury and infection. Bu today, without the looming threat of a wooly mammoth attack, too much inflammation contributes to serious illnesses.

  • Increase in stress hormones. When a person experiences some kind of loss or trauma, friends and community members often rush to provide support and companionship. This social support facilitates a neurochemical response that helps a person be more resilient to stress. When a person is alone and vulnerable, they may not be able to regulate stress hormones without a support network.

  • Alzheimer's disease. Many scientists studying Alzheimer's disease report that seniors who report frequent feelings of isolation and lack of companionship have higher levels of a protein (amyloid) that they believe could be an underlying cause of Alzheimer's. What this means is that loneliness may be associated with pre-clinical Alzheimer's disease, the stage prior to mild cognitive impairment.

  • Lack of sleep. Feelings of loneliness can affect how well and how much a person sleeps at night. Those who feel alone wake up more often and do not get the deep, restorative sleep that is crucial to overall health and wellbeing.

How to Combat Loneliness

As seniors are more prone to the effects of loneliness, it is vitally important that they maintain old and create new friendships and relationships. Activities and social events in senior living communities like The Villas are created specifically for the older population. They are designed to engage residents both mentally and physically (depending on their mobility). Activities are often created around hobbies and subjects that residents have a vested interest in, so their participation is more likely.

Some persons experiencing loneliness fall into a cycle of being afraid to try new things for fear of rejection or potential failure on their part. This fear keeps them from taking steps to meet new people or try new things. Thus it is important to continually encourage, invite and praise them for their efforts when they participate in something that might be uncomfortable to them. Ultimately, their involvement and creation of new relationships are important to their overall mental and physical health.

If you have a neighbor or loved one who lives alone, take time to visit and talk with them. Make them feel that they are part of your life, even in a small way. Invite them for coffee or other outings to encourage them to meet new people or at least see old friends. If they are not mobile or have trouble going out, they are more likely to stay home and be alone, so your initiative to socialize with them might be just the catalyst they need.

The Villas Senior Care Community

If you are interested in volunteering, bringing an activity or entertainment or just want to learn more about our community, visit our website today. You can also call us directly at 217-744-2299 for more information on our services and how we encourage companionship and friendship at The Villas.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

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The Villas Senior Care Community100 Marion Pkwy
Sherman, IL 62684
(217) 744-2299