Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, September 19, 2016

Isolation and Loneliness in the Elderly

"There's been an explosion of public awareness here, from local authorities to the Department of Health to the media."
Paul Cann, founder, The Campaign to End Loneliness, London, U.K.

"The profound effects of loneliness on health and independence are a critical public health problem."
Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, geriatrician, University of California, San Francisco

"This is the first time we've found a cellular substrate for this experience."
"And we saw the change after 24 hours of isolation."
Dr. Kay M. Tye, neuroscientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Denying you feel lonely makes no more sense than denying [that] you feel hunger."
Dr. John T. Cacioppo, professor of psychology, University of Chicago

"We have this kind of male pride thing. We say, 'I can look after myself. I don't need to talk to anyone', and it's a complete fallacy."
"Not communicating helps to kill us."
Mike Jenn, 70, retired charity worker, London

"I was a bit anxious walking into a roomful of people."
"But I immediately thought, 'Yeah, this is a place [the Men's Shed workshop/social gathering] that could work for me'."
Keith Pearshouse, 70, retired school principal, London 
Campaign To End Loneliness page header

Neuroscientists at MITT recently published new findings of research linked to the brain and loneliness. Their study, appearing in the journal Cell, identifies a region known as D.R.N., or dorsal raphe nucleas, earlier recognized as a link to depression. Dr. K.M. Tye and colleagues discovered that when mice were kept in a social unit dopamine neurons in the D.R.N. remained relatively inactive.

Once the mice were separated and isolated from one another, even for a short period of time, the neuron activity surged once they were reunited with other mice, after having been apart. Researchers have evidence that links loneliness to physical illness as well as to cognitive decline. Loneliness, as far as they are concerned, is a better predictor of early death than obesity.

In Blackpool, England, a 24-hour call center was established to aid older adults requiring help in filling a most basic need; contact with others. Loneliness is increasingly viewed in Britain as an issue seriously affecting health and as such has become a public health matter worthy of receiving public funds and attention. The call center, named The Silver Line helpline, handles roughly 10,000 calls on a weekly basis.

Local governments and the United Kingdom's National Health Service have established programs whose purpose is to mitigate loneliness and dozens of towns and cities in England, now host these programs.

Professor Cacioppo deplores the negative aspect given to loneliness, that it is a sign of weakness, or an indication that someone is incapable of independence. His laboratory work has demonstrated the effect of chronic loneliness, associated with increased levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone, along with higher vascular resistance, capable of raising blood pressure while decreasing blood flow to vital body organs.

White blood cells are affected by signals activated in the brain through loneliness whose affect has the potential to impair the effectiveness of the immune system. A national survey of older adults rendered data in 2012 enabling Dr. Perissinotto to analyze the relationship between loneliness and health outcomes in older people. Of the 1,604 study participant, 43 percent reported being lonely and they were seen to have significantly higher rates of declining mobility, of difficulty performing routine activities, along with higher rates of death six years on from the study.

It was noted that 70 percent of the calls to The Silver Line come from women; men are more loathe to admit they are lonely. Retired charity worker Mike Jenn operates a "Men's Shed" in London for the purpose of welcoming older men into a comfortable environment doubling as a woodworking shop. A concept that was initiated in Australia, it has been shown to work very well. Over 300 Men's Sheds now operate throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.

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