SSM Health Medical Minute: Addressing geriatric loneliness

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ST. LOUIS - Loneliness is killing us.

Feelings of being alone are not just affecting our mental health, they’re affecting our physical health as well. Social isolation, defined by the Institute of Medicine as the “absence of social interactions, contacts, and relationships with family and friends," has been deemed a public health crisis, with mortality risks comparable to cigarette smoking, lack of physical activity, and obesity.

Human connection is a fundamental need – as great a necessity as food, water, and shelter. So when this important factor is missing from our lives, feelings of loneliness and isolation can have a real impact on our health.

Senior citizens are highly susceptible to social isolation. Their families no longer live at home with them, it becomes more difficult to get out and about (mobility issues), and many of their close friends are approaching the end of life.

A study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that socially isolated seniors have a 26 percent higher death risk than the elderly that remain social. It can lead to increased risk for heart disease, weakened immune systems, depression/anxiety, hospital readmissions, and the acceleration of dementia. Signs of social isolation among seniors can include refusal to engage socially and making excuses to keep from attending events.

  • How to reduce social isolation among seniors
  • Providing transportation and mobility assistance
  • Giving them encouragement and purpose
  • Address issues to hearing and vision sensitivities
  • Address health issues such as incontinence.
  • Share meals together regularly

SSM Health Medical Group has primary care physicians who specialize in geriatric medicine.

The SSM Health Medical Minute airs every Wednesday at 7 PM on KPLR News 11 and at 9 PM on KTVI Fox 2 News.​

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