Seniors Living in Isolation are at Greater Risk for Diseases

Family and Friends are Good for Seniors

Health Risks for Seniors Living in Isolation

Seniors living in isolation are a growing problem in America. According to a University of Michigan study published March 3, 2018 in the Healthcare Journal one out of every five seniors lives in isolation, cut off from both friends and family and they are at a high risk for major mental and physical health problems such as an increase in dementia, chronic diseases, cognitive decline and death from all causes. Other studies have also shown an increase in cardiovascular disease and recurring heart attacks, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, cancer and delayed recovery from cancer.

Seniors were from Three Ethnic Groups

From 2001 to 2003, the University of Michigan researchers investigated a national sample of more than 1300 seniors age 55 or older, who were from three ethnic groups, Afro Americans, Black Carribeans and Non-Hispanic Whites. The majority 77.28% were connected to both family and friends, 11% were cut off from friends, but not family and 7% were only isolated from their families. However, the 5% who were isolated from both family and friends were found to be at high risk for both mental and physical health problems. Men were found to be more likely to be living in isolation than women, but otherwise there was no difference in isolation regarding the three ethnic groups. Older men living in isolation were usually not married, had limited income and a low educational background. In a few cases these men were quite old and had literally outlived other family members and friends.

Mobility and Self-Help Problems

Some of the seniors living with family members reported being isolated from friends and the investigation showed that seniors with mobility problems, not being able to stand for more than a half hour or to walk for a long time were the most likely to be isolated from friends.

In contrast seniors who had problems getting dressed by themselves or bathing alone were actually less isolated from friends. The explanation for this is that seniors who have walking problems simply find it too difficult to go out socially with friends, whereas those that are more frail and have more problems taking care of themselves or may be close to death have  friends come to visit them in their homes.

Seniors in Isolation are Cut off from Learning about Health Issues

It is theorized that seniors in isolation do not hear about health news, tips and other  updates unlike a senior living with family members and/or who has contact with friends and this may contribute to their health problems.

Informal Healthcare – Unpaid Caregivers

For economic reasons most healthcare is by unpaid caregivers who are usually family members or close friends. It is estimated that there are about 43 million unpaid caregivers whose services are valued at 47 billion dollars. This kind of informal healthcare not only saves money, but delays the need for moving to a long-term nursing care facility.

Friends or Family

In general, family and close friends fill the social needs of most seniors.

The family ties are not voluntarily chosen like friends, but there is a responsibility to other family members.

Living in Isolation not to be Confused with Living Alone

Many seniors who live alone still maintain family and social contacts, especially if they do not have mobility problems. Living in isolation means no contacts with family or friends.


Seniors in isolation from both friends and family are at greater risk for all kinds of physical and mental health problems and seniors in isolation are becoming  more common in America. Research should be followed up to think of ways of assisting seniors to get out of isolation.

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