Loneliness in Older Adults poses Health Risks

October 08, 2019

As adults age, they often outlive their spouse, close friends, and other family members. As a result, many seniors become lonely and socially isolated. To complicate matters, physical limitations often prevent aging adults the ability to drive and get out of their homes, which only exacerbates their isolation.

Studies have shown that loneliness and isolation not only lead to health issues such as depression but, can also lead to cognitive decline, heart disease, and a weakened immune system. (NIH, 2019) According to Steve Cole, PhD at UCLA, who heads National Institute of Health funded research on the physiological of loneliness, “Loneliness acts a fertilizer for other diseases”. Dr. Cole claims that “the biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease”.  (NIH, 2019) In a different study, scientists have discovered that loneliness raises the level of stress hormones and inflammation which can lead to many other illnesses. (Brody, 2017)

In research conducted over a six-year period, older people who expressed that they felt isolated, left out, or lacking companionship also showed a decline in their ability to perform routine daily activities such as grooming, bathing, and preparing meals. (Brody, 2017) Older adults that live alone or just feel socially isolated need others in their lives to assist them, visit them, and check-up on them. Many people suffer in silence and their health continues to unnecessarily decline.

Meaningful engagement and social interactions are important to reducing some of the potential impacts of loneliness. According to an AARP study, only 33% of mid-life or older adults that have spoken to their neighbors felt lonely, while 61% or mid-life or older adults who have never spoken to a neighbor report feeling lonely.  (Anderson & Thayer, 2018) As members of a community, it is important that we all look out for aging friends and neighbors who are isolated and lonely.

As Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo Assistant Professor at University of Chicago and Director of the university’s Brain Dynamics Laboratory so aptly said, “As a social species, we are accountable to help our lonely children, parents, neighbors, and even strangers in the same way we would treat ourselves. Treating loneliness is our collective responsibility”. (NIH, 2019)

For community members who live in the West Valley, Benevilla offers complimentary volunteer assistance including “Friendly Visitors”, phone pals, grocery shopping services, medical appointment transportation, handyman services, and business assistance. If you, or anyone you know is in need of this service or would like to volunteer to provide one of these services, please visit our website at www.benevilla.org or call Benevilla at (623) 584-4999. We can all make a difference!


Brody, Jane E. (December 11, 2017). The Surprising Effect of Loneliness on Health. The New York Times. Sec. D, Page 7.

Anderson¸ G. Oscar & Thayer. (September 2018) Loneliness and Social Connections: A National Survey of Adults 45 and Older. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2018/loneliness-social-connections.html.

National Institute on Aging. (April 23, 2019). Social Isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/news.