Loneliness is a major issue that is being widely recognised through initiatives like Marmalade Trust’s Loneliness Awareness Week.
The feeling of loneliness can have a concerning impact on a person’s physical and mental well-being. We often think of loneliness as people who live alone or who don’t have regular contact with other people. However, as mentioned in research by Professor John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, people who live in large households or care homes experience loneliness much more consistently than those who don’t.
In care homes, loneliness is particularly prevalent. Residents are more than twice as likely to report feeling lonely. A study by the University of Bedfordshire showed that over 80% of older care home residents with mental health problems reported loneliness.
People can often find themselves feeling bored in care homes, which leads to higher rates of loneliness. Some people leave behind active lifestyles and are expected to rely on care home staff for stimulation and activity.
Causes of loneliness in care homes
Sometimes, the transition to a care home can bring with it a loss of identity.
People in care homes need to learn about new surroundings, interact with new people, and learn new routines. Their gradual deterioration can cause frightening disconnections between their ‘old’ life and ‘new’ life.
Various things can cause loneliness in care homes. For example:
- Boredom and isolation: aging does not always mean a loss of physical health. It can bring with it boredom and isolation that leads to a loss of identity. Plus, there are several other losses to consider: health, a familiar home, and routines. These can all be triggers for loneliness.
- Passive acceptance: you’ll often hear that a person ‘settles in nicely’ at a care home. But, this can often mean that the person is passively accepting their new routine without showing the real concern they may be feeling.
- Lack of support: many people arrive at a care home in an anxious state. However, the referral rate for counseling to help them through the transition is shockingly low. This is a burden to place on already busy care home staff. Sadly, it’s true that when a person moves into a care home, other support avenues can lose interest.
- Change aversion: it’s completely reasonable for a person to feel sad and angry at needing to leave their home. This can cause a person to shut down and isolate themselves even more.
Statistics on loneliness in elderly and those with a chronic condition
Loneliness in the elderly can lead to them having a 59% higher risk of physical and mental health decline. With this in mind, the rate of depression for seniors who live in care homes has been as high as 44%.
Further statistics include:
- According to Age UK, 1.4 million older people in the UK experience loneliness often. It’s clearly a widespread problem.
- 12% of older people say they never spend time with family.
- Older people who suffer from loneliness have a 64% higher risk of dementia.
One of the physical and mental effects of loneliness is that it can significantly impact a person’s sleep, resulting in it being less rested. This can lead to psychological problems, making them less comfortable in social situations and heightening their anxiety levels. A lack of sleep and an increase in time spent alone has also been linked to depression.
There is also significant evidence linking loneliness to a higher risk of other physical and mental conditions, such as: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.
How chronic illness can lead to loneliness
Loneliness doesn’t always come from having nobody around. It can be felt when a person feels they are unable to communicate how they’re truly feeling.
There are moments in chronic illness that are unspeakably lonely. Maybe it’s when a person is deciding on whether or not they can attend an event or how they’ll manage to get to the shops or how they feel like a burden on those closest to them.
Loneliness and chronic illness can become a vicious circle.
If you have a chronic illness, the fact that it can lead to loneliness probably isn’t surprising. You may need to leave a party early, bail on dinner last minute, or ditch a phone call from a friend because your pain decided to flare up.
While your illness may limit what you can physically do, it doesn’t have to keep you from reaching out to other people.
The effects of loneliness
Numerous studies have shown a correlation between loneliness and deteriorating health. Social isolation is estimated to be a comparable early death risk factor to smoking 15 cigarettes each day, making it worse than more broadly publicised factors such as obesity and lack of exercise (source: Campaign to End Loneliness). A ‘high-degree’ of loneliness has also been found to double the risk of a person developing Alzheimer’s disease (source: Age UK).
Loneliness can also lead to:
- low energy
- stress and anxiety
- low confidence
- negative emotions and thoughts
- poor hygiene
How live-in care can prevent the loneliness of care homes
One of the key factors contributing to feelings of loneliness is a separation from the familiar.
Going from what you know to a completely new place can be daunting and frightening. All of a sudden, a person no longer has their familiar surroundings, their familiar bedroom, or their familiar living space. This can lead to a sense of identity loss.
Live-in care is a popular alternative to residential care. This means a person gets to stay in the comfort of their own home and have the help of an expert carer who comes to stay with them.
This offers around-the-clock companionship among other benefits, including:
- Maintaining a daily routine.
- Being able to stay with beloved pets.
- Staying in the local community among friends and neighbours.
- The freedom to choose what and when to eat.
- The reduction of stress, vulnerability, loneliness, and insecurity.
- Avoidance of the potential stress of selling a family home.
How Mumby’s can help a loved one with loneliness
Live-in care allows your loved one to continue to enjoy living at home in the comfort of their own surroundings. They carry on with their own routines, including getting up and having breakfast when they want, enjoying their favourite pastimes, and seeing their friends and family as and when they desire.