June 24th, 2024

To Your Health: Loneliness, isolation can lead to serious health problems

By Gillian Slade on July 2, 2018.

Lack of human interaction is detrimental to our mental and physical health.

Loneliness and social isolation can significantly affect our quality of life. A British study found prolonged loneliness is linked to serious health problems including being as damaging as if the person smoked 15 cigarettes a day.

When there is nobody to share your thoughts with, bounce ideas off, or someone to tell you that you’re “crazy” for obsessing about something that is not worth worrying about, thoughts can run amok and lead to a downward slope.

Some of us enjoy a little solitude — a bit of peace and quiet — at least for a while. Keep that going and you are likely on a slippery downward slope.

This does not mean you have to have a dozen friends that you touch base with every day. It can be as simple as making a point of talking to people, even strangers, that you encounter.

Stand in line at the checkout at the supermarket and consider it a social occasion. Say hello to the person next to you. If you can’t think of anything else to talk about, you can always bring up the weather.

If you take walks, make a point of at least saying hello to people you pass along the way. If you walk past homes where residents are in their garden, say hello and perhaps comment on their garden if appropriate.

The number of cases of depression and dementia is projected to increase at a higher rate in rural areas compared with urban ones, the study found.

Seniors in rural areas may have enjoyed that location for decades, while they were active, but are now spending their final years in isolation.

It is not only lack of mobility that has affected social interaction. Small communities used to have a handful of shops years ago complete with a village doctor or at least a nurse. There used to be a bus service to a larger centre with more facilities — even if it was only once a day.

Drive through small communities in Alberta and the sights tell the story of what used to be. An architecturally attractive school building is boarded up with paint flaking away from the window frames. What used to be a hotel has weeds forging a path through the entrance and pigeons enjoying the shelter of an abandoned building.

Seniors often prefer to stay in the rural community they’ve grown to love and where they raised their family. The problem is adult children generally leave to find work. The senior can be equally determined to stay put. Making the senior move to an urban centre may not always be the answer. Sometimes society has to adjust to meet the new demands.

So it is time for more social interaction for yourself and part of that could be making sure that those who don’t get out can enjoy a visit from you or at least a telephone call.

Here’s to improved social interaction and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her at gslade@medicinehatnews.com or 403-528-8635.

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