Can ADHD Get Worse As You Age?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, often gets misdiagnosed in young people. While around 11% of children ages 4-17 in the U.S. have received a diagnosis of ADHD, studies show that this is just a small percentage of people who actually have ADHD. This misdiagnosis, and failure to treat ADHD, can end up causing bigger issues for people when they get older: those with undiagnosed or untreated ADHD have a higher risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression. Symptoms can become worse after midlife, and continue to worsen with regular age-related cognitive decline. Don’t ignore the symptoms, speak to your doctor before your condition gets worse.

What ADHD Looks Like In Older Adults

An estimated 3% of older adults have been diagnosed with ADHD, although the number of those who are actually living with the condition might be higher. While some studies show that ADHD doesn’t necessarily get worse with age, and that some adults can outgrow their symptoms, this is not the case for everyone. In fact, some people will experience more severe or intense symptoms during their day-to-day activities when they get older, since the more stress you encounter, the worse your ADHD symptoms can get. That means adults with ADHD will need more support than the average aging adult.

When Do Symptoms Get Worse?

Symptoms of ADHD generally change during the transition from childhood to adolescence and young adulthood, again when a person enters midlife, and yet again during older age. Often, older adults with ADHD will have issues with things like:

older man with his head dispersing as puzzle pieces

  • Misplacing items
  • Forgetting words
  • Talking too much
  • Having trouble following conversations
  • Difficulty maintaining their home
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Memory issues
  • Not getting things done
  • Time-management challenges
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Poor nutritional habits

In addition, a 2012 study found that 62% of those with ADHD had at least one other disorder, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

Eventually, if left untreated, ADHD can lead to serious mental health issues. Specifically, older adults with ADHD have an increased risk of developing depression and dementia. “Older people with ADHD who have never been diagnosed may suddenly fear that they’re developing dementia because they are absentminded and forgetful,” says Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D.

Managing & Treating ADHD

illustration of a head with scrambled brain and a person grabbing a rope from the brain and pulling
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help manage symptoms of ADHD as you age.

If you suspect that you have ADHD, speak to your doctor. The best way to help manage your condition is to seek treatment as soon as possible: the earlier you get help, the more manageable the condition is. You can do this by going to a support group, or attending cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy can help raise your awareness when symptoms occur, help you combat feelings of low self-esteem to reduce feelings of depression, and teach you how to cope with stress and increase productivity.

If you need more help, doctors can prescribe medications such as amphetamines and methylphenidate to help deal with ADHD. And in rare cases, doctors will prescribe antidepressants.

If you’re on Medicare, getting medications and therapy for ADHD will be partially covered, but you will still have out-of-pocket expenses, such as your Part B deductible and 20% Part B coinsurance, which can add up to a lot. It’s worth looking into a Medicare Supplement Plan to save as much money as you can, so speak to an EZ agent for all of your options. EZ’s agents work with the top-rated insurance companies in the nation and can compare plans in minutes for you at no cost. To get free instant quotes for plans that cover your current doctors, simply enter your zip code in the bar on the side, or to speak to a licensed agent, call 888-753-7207.

Why Love Later In Life Is Better

They say that youth is wasted on the young. And maybe it’s true that younger people don’t appreciate the advantages of youth, and maybe some of us think about what we would do if we could turn back time. But we say, who wants to sit around wishing to be young again anyway? Remember all the ups and downs, the uncertainties, and the financial instability? And don’t get us started on the relationship drama. While society in general may try to ignore the fact that older people have amazing love lives, we know that love later in life can be so much sweeter than the overly celebrated passion of youth. This year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, let’s take a moment to appreciate and celebrate love – old or new – in older age. Here are just some of the benefits of love in later life.

an older couple holding hands and walking down a trail
When you are older, you have more time to travel and get to know each other more.

1. You’ve Got Time!

If you were in a serious relationship or marriage when you were younger, do you remember the stress of daily life together? Work, kids, the never-ending to-do lists…it was probably tough to find the time to just relax, be together, and have fun. But now, if you’re retired, you’ve got all the time you need to actually just be together and enjoy each other’s company. You can travel, go to matinees, snuggle on the couch and have an endless marathon of all the movies you always meant to watch, take a class or volunteer together – the sky (and your budget) is the limit! And maybe all that snuggling on the couch can lead to some fun anytime of day, with no worry of who might walk in the door, which brings us to…

2. The Sex (Yes, We Said Sex! Say It Loud and Proud!)

Yes, older people have sex (sorry if that offends your delicate sensibilities, young people), and it can be some of the best sex of their lives. After all, you’ve had decades to learn what you like – and you know what? You’re mature and comfortable enough in yourself to ask for it. Add to that the fact that you’re past the vanity of youth and are more comfortable in your skin, and you’ve got a recipe for some seriously pleasurable intimate moments together. And remember, if you are experiencing any discomfort with sex or signs of sexual dysfunction, talk to your doctor. Your sex life shouldn’t have to be over just because you’re over 50!

3. The Rejuvenating Power of New Love

a red heart on a pink keyboard button
You can try to find a new love later in life with more ease if you try online dating sites.

Some love in later life is the love of familiarity and history, but some love is just as new or exciting as the love found in youth. For those who are not in long-term relationships, the opportunity to find new love has no age limit. Meeting someone new can remind you that anything is possible, and that there are new beginnings all around us. Spending your time with friends and family is great, but if you’re looking to add a little spice to your life, don’t be afraid to get out there and meet new people (tip: try online dating sites)!

4. No More Games!

Just as you can (hopefully) put aside the vanity of youth as you get older and wiser, you can also look at love as less of an ego-fueled game. Whether you’re dating or living your life with a longtime partner, relationships in older age are distilled down to what they should be about: love and companionship. Oh, with some older and wiser sex thrown in there, too (see above)! You’re probably not out to impress your friends, and definitely not worried about pleasing your parents or starting a family. So just relax, be yourself, and enjoy! 

5. You’re Living and Loving in the Present

You know what you’ve learned now that you’re older? Time is precious. The only thing you can count on is the present. And because you’re mature enough to know that, you also know that now is not the time in your life to be hung up on petty arguments or sweat the small stuff. Because of your willingness to accept, and be present and appreciative of what you have, your relationships can take on more of a feeling of immediacy. Let the young waste their time nitpicking; you’ve got better things to do. 

6. Endless Storiesolder caucasian couple laughing together while sitting outside having coffee.

When you’re young, a lot of the enjoyment of romance comes from gossiping about it with your friends. But in later life, you’ve got amazing stories to share. If you’ve been with your love for, well, forever, you can entertain your children and grandchildren with endless hilarious stories of your life together; if you’ve started a different chapter of your life with someone new, you can spend your endless time together telling each other the stories of your lives. Trust us, you’ve lived an amazing life and you’ll never run out of things to talk about! 

7. Your History and Your Future

If you are with someone that you’ve spent a lifetime with, you’ve got stories, but you might also have a loving family that you can point to and say, “We made that.” Many older couples have multiple generations surrounding them as a result of their love. Even if you’re starting a new life with a new partner, you both have histories and perhaps families that you can bring together to create a new future for yourselves. 

To all those older adults out there living and loving – we see you. While much of the world may glamorize youthful (wrinkle-free!) passion, and some may ignore the reality that older adults have rich, full love lives, those with wisdom and experience know better. Young love has its charms, but love can be more satisfying, fulfilling, and even exciting when you’re more experienced, patient, and ready to live in the present. So whether you’re celebrating a love of many years, embarking on a new romantic adventure, or looking for fun, enjoy yourself! Youth may be wasted on the young, but you’ve earned your time to savor every moment of your time with your sweetie.

“Arthritis Lifestyle”, the Key to Managing Your Pain?

Arthritis stinks. The pain and stiffness can really put a damper on your day (or night), so you’ve probably put a lot of thought into what helps relieve your symptoms. Maybe you’ve noticed that you feel better when you add some exercise and movement into your day, so you try to do yoga or walk the dog when you get a chance. Maybe a good night’s sleep helps, but it’s so hard to stay asleep all night with the pain! 

Trying to work towards getting more exercise, movement and sleep are great goals for dealing with your arthritis, but doctors who have completed a study on arthritis management are now saying that you shouldn’t look at these habits as separate parts of your day. Rather, they believe that you should know how movement and sleep work together to improve or worsen your symptoms. They also urge arthritis sufferers to know their “arthritis lifestyle” so they can more effectively manage their pain

older asian man with his eyes closed and his palm on his cheek
There is a link to sleep and arthritis pain, if you get enough, then you can manage your pain better.

How Much You Move and Sleep Are Key

It’s already been proven that movement and sleep are especially important for people with arthritis. Getting enough quality sleep can:

  • Help you manage pain better, and even raise your pain threshold
  • Boost your immune system
  • Allow your body to repair damaged tissue

In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that sleep loss makes certain pain centers in the brain more active and reactive than they would be after a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, you might find yourself in a vicious circle, in which pain makes it difficult to sleep, and lack of sleep makes it difficult to feel better. As Christopher R. Morris, MD, a rheumatologist in private practice in Kingsport, Tennessee, points out, if a person sleeps poorly, “the muscles can’t fully relax. If they’re fatigued, they hurt. If they hurt, they get fatigued, and they hurt more.”

How about moving your body? Exercising, as well as movement that isn’t specifically considered “working out,” is the other key to managing arthritis symptoms. For example, according to research published in Arthritis Care & Research, people with lower extremity joint pain and stiffness who engaged in moderate to vigorous activity for at least 45 minutes a week had improved function compared with less active adults.

Unfortunately, most people with arthritis don’t move enough. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, only 36% of adults with arthritis get the recommended weekly amount of physical activity. Again, while some of this may have to do with lifestyle restrictions, some of it may be related to another vicious circle: you hurt, so you sit more, so you hurt some more. But now we know that you also need to consider how your sleep affects your exercise vs. sitting habits, and vice versa, as well as how they all interact to make up your “arthritis lifestyle.”

What’s Your “Arthritis Lifestyle”?

Dr. Lynne Feehan, PhD, a physical therapist and clinical associate professor of physical therapy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and her colleagues, are interested in that exact issue: how do people with arthritis balance movement, sitting, and sleeping throughout their days, and how does this balance affect them? Feehan believes that you can’t separate these habits: “Evidence suggests that keeping more physically active during the day makes you more likely to have better sleep quality and duration at night,” she says. 

She also believes that “We can’t assume that a patient with knee arthritis needs to increase their physical activity, because maybe it’s their sleep or sitting behavior that are bigger issues.” That’s why she and her colleagues looked at 172 people with arthritis and their exercise, sitting, and sleeping habits and created the following four “arthritis lifestyle” categories. Take a look and see which one you might fall into!

caucasian hands holding each other on a woman's lap with a skirt and cardigan on

  • The High Sitter Type: People in this category spend an average of 13 hours per day sitting, which is well above the recommended threshold of 10 hours. They get less than 20 minutes of exercise (such as brisk walking) a day, and move around for only around 1.6 hours per day (for example, walking to their car or moving around the house). They also get less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep, getting only around 6.9 hours per night on average. 
  • The Low Sleeper Type – How about people who get even less sleep than that? “Low sleepers” get only around 6.5 hours per night on average, and they also sit too much for good health (around 12 hours per day). But they do get in more exercise, as they tend to walk briskly for about 30 minutes a day and move around for approximately 3 hours a day in their daily lives.  
  • The High Sleeper Type – As the name implies, this group gets more sleep than the others, clocking in at a luxurious 8 hours a night on average. They also sit less, hitting the more recommended amount of around 10 hours per day. But they need to move more: they only tend to exercise for around 18 minutes a day, although they move around for approximately 2.5 hours. 
  • The Balanced Activity Type – This is the category you should be aiming for! People in this group get an average of almost 7.5 hours per night, get plenty of exercise (around 45 minutes a day), move around for more than 4 hours a day, and only sit for around 9 hours. 

What To Do

older man sitting on a table with a male doctor touching his knee with one hand and holding a clipboard in another.
If you keep experiencing a lot of pain, it is best to talk to your doctor about your arthritis lifestyle.

The categories above are a way for you to assess your own lifestyle, and how your movement, sitting, and sleep habits might be interacting to affect your pain. Your best bet is to strive to be in the “balanced activity” category, although it’s understandable that this might be difficult if you’re juggling a busy lifestyle or having trouble sleeping. But there are things you can do! Dr. Feehan suggests making small, incremental lifestyle changes, so that they’re more likely to stick, and to make a real difference. 

For example, to try and get more sleep:

  • Talk to your doctor if pain is the problem. In addition, try to find ways to minimize joint pain right before bed, like timing your medication schedule or even using a heating pad or taking a warm shower. 
  • Try getting to bed earlier, perhaps by moving your schedule around a bit and cutting down on couch time in the evening (which could also help cut down on your sitting time!)
  • On the other hand, don’t linger in bed if you can’t sleep. Get up, move around, and do something that’s not too stimulating until you feel sleepy. 
  • Make sure your bedroom is reserved for sleep, not working, watching TV, or using your phone or tablet. 
  • Get moving! As Dr. Feehan has made clear, exercise and sleep go hand in hand to help relieve symptoms. Exercise relieves stress, which can help you get more rest, and can help to tire you out.

When it comes to getting more of that precious exercise into your day, remember not to be afraid to move! Dr. Feehan points out that slowly increasing your physical activity level shouldn’t end up making your pain worse, and any extra aches you feel should be temporary, and hopefully lessen over time. “The pain most people feel is not doing damage or making the arthritis worse, and there are tremendous benefits,” she says. 

Walking not your thing? You can try some more low impact activities, like spinning, biking, or swimming. Yoga is also a great way to add movement and stretching into your day! 

The most important takeaway in all this is that each of us has a unique lifestyle that affects our health. For people suffering from arthritis, knowing how to balance movement, sitting, and sleep in their daily lives can make all the difference in managing pain and improving quality of life. 

Can Art Make a Difference in the Lives of Those Living with Dementia?

It can be easy to focus on the things that we lose as we age. Energy, sleep, even taste buds! The possibility of losing one’s memory can be the scariest thing of all, and, unfortunately, it does happen to many people as they age. In fact, it has been estimated that 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 will be affected by some form of dementia. Researchers are working hard to find ways to slow down or even cure Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, but, unfortunately, as of now, there is no cure. However, there is definitely some very promising research showing that our brain’s capacity for creativity doesn’t diminish, and that using creativity can help improve quality of life for those with dementia. 

Does Dementia Affect Creativity?

Many researchers are finding that programs teaching art or using art as a jumping off point for discussion can be more than just a way to pass the time for those suffering from dementia. They can rebuild confidence, as well as allow participants a way to express themselves and even communicate more effectively. Researchers are also finding that artists can continue to practice their art, whether it’s painting, music, or writing, no matter their diagnosis; their art may change, but that doesn’t mean it changes for the worse. 

older hands holding a piece of construction paper with a person in blue scrubs sitting next to them
Researchers find that people with dementia can continue to practice art, and even become better at it.

According to Anne Basting, director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, “People look at dementia as loss and deficit. They never assume people with dementia can grow or learn anything [but] that’s what we’re witnessing: growth and expression and skill-building.” Basting has pioneered writing and other arts programs for people with dementia; she has seen firsthand how the people she works with use art to bypass traditional ways of expressing themselves and get their point across in other ways. 

When it comes to people who were artists before their diagnosis, neurologist Bruce L. Miller, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco has found that their work can actually become more original as their dementia progresses. In addition, he has seen dementia patients who were not artists before their diagnosis develop an interest in and a talent for art afterwards. 

According to Miller, “We typically don’t think that something could be getting better, we only think about what’s getting worse,” he said. “Now I always ask if there’s anything patients are doing very well, or better than before. It’s a remarkable response to a dementing illness.”  All this suggests that the way our brains deal with creativity may be different than the way they deal with our day-to-day functioning. 

Artists’ Brains

Is it possible that art can have a long-term positive effect on the brain? Dr. Luis Fornazzari, a neurologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, has been trying to answer just that question, and he and his team have made exciting discoveries. They have found that the brain anatomy of musicians is different from that of others. Their brains had built special “neural networks” that were more resistant to the effects of stroke, dementia, and even traumatic brain injuries. The musicians they worked with could continue to play their music and even learn new songs even if they had been affected by dementia. the brain in different colored pixels all over

Fornazzari and his team also found that painters and artists who draw can continue their craft, and dancers can experience delayed progression of Parkinson’s; one renowned sculptor who was unable to tell time, name certain animals, and recall simple words was able to draw beautiful, detailed sketches of people from memory. 

It’s definitely looking like engaging in any kind of creative pursuit can be beneficial to the brain. After looking at all of these promising studies, researchers now believe that art protects the brain and gives it an alternative way to function. “We noticed for instance that some of the artists lost their speech. They couldn’t talk,” he said. “But at the same time, the art was totally preserved.” For those suffering from dementia, tapping into their creativity could be a way to keep communicating with and connecting to the work around them.

The Benefits of Art on the Brain

So is there any evidence that adding more creativity into the lives of all people suffering from dementia is beneficial? Well, as we already pointed out, there are many programs that offer art classes to dementia patients, and many studies (as well as anecdotal accounts) showing that art is great for people as they age. Now, one study in Australia has even found physical evidence that art has benefits for the brains of even non-artists with dementia.

silhouette of a head in black with white puzzle pieces coming out of it
Researchers saw that those with dementia remembered details of artwork from the museum they visited.

Researchers at the University of Canberra studied participants in an Art and Dementia program at the National Gallery of Australia; these older adults with dementia spent time at the museum engaging with and discussing the artwork. The results? The researchers found that the program made a big difference in cortisol (the “stress hormone”) levels in the participants in the program; participants had lower levels after spending time at the program. High cortisol levels are often associated with more rapid cognitive decline, so this was very good news.

Not only that, but researchers were surprised to find that some of the participants could remember specific artwork, describe it in detail, and talk about what they liked about it after the program ended. They also said that they experienced less “sundowning,” or confusion that sets in later in the day. 

These results are hopeful. They are showing that art can improve quality of life for many people and can help maintain connections. The words of some of the participants of the Art and Dementia program say it all: “I feel like me again,” said one. “It is good coming here because we all know we have the same problem so we are accepting when people … forget. I feel as though I belong somewhere.” Another participant wrote, “The only time I feel the purple cloud of my diagnosis lift is when I visit the Gallery”. Finally, one who wrote at the beginning of the program,  “I feel as though I am disappearing,” ended it reporting: “It has been so positive, I feel intelligent again.”

All of this proves that we should value art and creativity, and encourage making it a part of everyone’s lives, no matter their age. “Art opens the mind,” according to Luis Fornazzari. “It should be taught to everyone. It’s better than many medications and is as important as mathematics or history.”

Keeping The Spice In Your Life As You Age

Are you finding that life isn’t as…sweet as it used to be? How about salty? Or sour? You’re not imagining things – as you age, your sense of taste actually starts to decline, like your eyesight or hearing. This phenomenon can feel like another annoying part of getting older, but your declining sense of taste can actually pose risks to your health – not to mention that it can affect your quality of life. There are ways you can push back against a diminished sense of taste, and we’ve got tips for putting the pleasure back into your meals.

The Science5 mouths open with their tongues out with different sections of taste buds highlighted.

We are born with around 9,000 taste buds, each one a bundle of sensory cells that sends taste signals to the brain through nerves. Some are attuned to sweetness, some to saltiness, some to bitterness, etc. But after age 50, the number of taste buds you have decreases, and the others begin to shrink, so your sense of taste becomes markedly less intense. 

There are multiple possible reasons for this change in the quantity and quality of your taste buds, and for the change in your sense of taste. First, scientists believe that, while taste buds are generally good at regenerating (think of how quickly you can recover after burning your tongue!), their ability to regenerate themselves decreases with age. 

Another major factor in loss of taste is actually the age-related decline of another sense: your sense of smell. Much of your ability to taste foods is intimately related to your ability to smell those foods. Your taste buds can detect a handful of tastes, but your nose can detect thousands of smells. As you age, olfactory nerve endings and mucus production in the nose may also decline, weakening your sense of smell – and your sense of taste. 

There are many other reasons that you may be experiencing a change in your sense of taste, so it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if this is happening to you. Some of these reasons include:

cigarette lit with ashes flowing from it
Heavy smoking contributes to loss of taste buds.
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Infections
  • Head injuries
  • Dental problems, such as gum disease, ill-fitting dentures or inflammation
  • Radiation therapy for head and neck cancers
  • Chemotherapy
  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy smoking
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease

The Risks

Losing your sense of taste can be more than just an inconvenient part of aging – there are certain risks associated with a diminished sense of taste. For example, since salty and sweet sensations are usually the first to be affected, you could start unknowingly oversalting your food. This could pose a problem, especially for seniors, because consuming too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which can affect your heart. 

Losing your sense of taste can also mean losing interest in your food, which could pose a risk beyond simple weight loss. You might end up missing out on vital nutrients because certain foods no longer taste the same to you. On the other hand, you could consume the wrong things, such as spoiled food or foods that contain harmful ingredients. glass of water with tiny bubbles in it

The same goes for drinking – you may end up consuming water that is less than ideal.  Researchers at Virginia Tech found that, as people age, they’re less likely to detect chemicals such as iron in their drinking water. Certain compounds give your water a metallic flavor that you’ll have a harder time detecting as you age, which puts you at risk for overexposure to iron and copper – a possible risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Instead of switching to wasteful bottled water, however, look for a high quality water filtration system to combat this problem.

What You Can Do

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to reverse loss of taste. In most cases, it’s just a natural part of aging. First, speak to your doctor to rule out any of the conditions mentioned above. Next, try a few of the following things to up your enjoyment of your meals:

  • Make meals more social – You’re more likely to eat bigger, more nutritious meals if you make it a point to eat with others. If the weather is nice near you, invite friends for an outdoor meal. If you have extended family that you are currently seeing, then try to make regular meals with them a part of your routine. Consider also extending your circle to include other seniors around you, and join in on community meals and potlucks. 
  • Up the herbs and spices (but not the salt!) – You don’t need salt to boost the flavor of your food – try turning up the spice levels instead. Add more sweet, fresh basil to Italian dishes, citrusy cilantro to Mexican or Asian dishes, pungent oregano to Greek food, warm cinnamon to North African-inspired dishes, or curry, turmeric, garam masala, or any number of spices to Indian dishes. You can also experiment with flavored vinegars, oils, or add herbs like dill to your rice, orange juice to your sweet potatoes, and lemon to your fish. The possibilities are endless!

    large piece of meat with food thermometer in it
    Heat up food so that it is the right temperature.
  • Heat it up (or cool it down!) – Food tastes better when it’s the right temperature! If you’re eating a meal that should be served piping hot, or chilled to perfection, make sure you’re eating it that way. A little temperature tweak could be all it takes to make a meal more palatable. 
  • Try something new – Be adventurous! Try a new cuisine, or exciting new recipes. Even if you feel set in your ways when it comes to your palate, consider taking tried and true and ingredients and preparing them in new ways
  • Find your favorite mealListen to your body! If you wake up ravenous and have always loved a hearty breakfast, then make that meal a focal point and really savor it. If you’ve always loved to relax after a long day and eat a big dinner to satisfy your end-of-the-day hunger, then focus on dinner and make it a big deal. Figure out when you’re hungriest and make the most of it! 

The side effects of aging can range from annoying to downright dangerous – and losing your sense of taste is no different. It can be tough to relish your food as you age – and to get the nutrients you need – but by taking a few simple steps, and really focusing on your favorite meals, some delicious ingredients, and some (safe!) social time, you can continue to stay healthy, happy, and well-fed.

Community Is The Key To Happiness In The Golden Years

Throughout our lives there may be times when we experience a profound sense of loneliness or isolation. For many people, loneliness will increase as we age. According to AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), 51% of people over age 75 live alone, and a 2012 study found that 43% of people over the age of 60 report a sense of loneliness due to living alone or being confined to their home. 

It is natural to experience feelings of loss and loneliness after adult children move away, or because friends are in poor health and less able to socialize. Your own health restrictions might also limit your ability to travel far to visit friends and family. Loneliness can become all consuming, impacting your physical and mental health – but it doesn’t have to. There are ways you can build a community for yourself to lessen the feelings of loneliness and isolation.

black and white picture of older man sitting down and looking down.
Loneliness increases chances of developing clinical dementia by over 60%.

Loneliness Affects Physical and Mental Health

There have been many studies drawing connections between senior isolation and physical health issues, including obesity, high blood pressure, mobility issues, and decreased immune system, which limits the body’s ability to fight off infections. One study even reports that the impact of loneliness on mortality is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

The impact on mental health is also severe. Loneliness increases chances of developing clinical dementia by over 60%. In a study of over 1000 seniors with typical brain function, those with infrequent social interactions saw 70% more cognitive decline than their more social counterparts. According to Dr. Bryan James, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, this is because “when you use your body the way it was intended… you age better. We just aren’t meant to be disengaged from one another”. 

How To Combat Isolation

AARP reports that most seniors – as many as 90% – want to continue living in their own homes for the next 5-10 years. Many people resist the option to move into assisted living because they feel they would be giving up their independence. But because community and socialization are incredibly important to health and mental wellness, and contribute to a longer, fuller life, you may want to look into other options, like community living. 

group of older individuals walking/hiking together.
Volunteering gives a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and value.

Community living is very different from assisted living. Assisted living is for seniors who are unable to safely live by themselves. Assisted living is typically community centered, but also has varying levels of medical and staff involvement, including scheduled meal times, medicine distribution, physical support, transportation, and structured activities. Community living tends to be a bit more relaxed, offering hospitality services, as well as structured groups and leisurely activities that are encouraged, but not mandatory.  

There are other ways to combat isolation for folks who still live in their own homes: 

  • Volunteer in your community: This is a great way to get out and give back to the community. Volunteering gives a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and value. Think of a cause you care about, and there’s likely a volunteer opportunity to match. Try local libraries, hospitals, community centers, animal shelters, or schools. 
  • Join a fitness center: Work on your health while meeting people who might share similar interests. Try opting for group classes like zumba, yoga, or water aerobics. 
  • Learn something new: Most colleges and community centers offer a wide variety of adult education classes. Learn a new language, craft, or skill. You’ll meet new people and perhaps find a new passion, too! 
  • Join a club or group: Many communities have clubs for gardening, cooking, walking, or reading. Take this opportunity to find people who share your interests while doing something you love! 

    older woman with gray hair holding a white phone up to her ear.
    Reach out to friends and family on the phone or through the computer.
  • Reach out to family and friends: If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we have a wealth of technology to keep us connected to our loved ones. Computers, phones, and tablets can all be made more accessible with built-in tools, and they’re a great method for staying connected to family and friends if they live far away. Try connecting through social media, video chats, or email. 

As humans, we rely on connectivity to feed our souls. Community (along with opposable thumbs!) is one of the main differences between us and the chimpanzees with whom we share the majority of our DNA. When isolated, we can experience declines in mental health, cognitive ability, and even physical wellness. Luckily, we can combat these issues through community ties and social engagement. With a greater connection to the community around them, seniors will see improvements in health, cognitive ability, and even longevity. With so many ways to stay connected to loved ones, meet new friends, and contribute to your community, nobody should feel isolated or lonely.