Loneliness isn’t just a feeling, it’s a powerful syndrome that affects many older adults worldwide. According to a recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association (JAMDA), loneliness can promote the deterioration of health and cognitive function, lower quality of life, and increase the rate of mortality. The term constitutes a subjective feeling, a state in which an individual’s social network in reality does not meet their own expectations. Thus, a person can suffer from loneliness even while surrounded by others. Older adults commonly experience feelings of loneliness. According to recent statistics, 4% to 9% of older adults living in the community experience continual loneliness, and an additional one-third could suffer from some degree of loneliness. However, not much research has been done to understand the prevalence of loneliness in older adults living in nursing home facilities, even though it is known that residents in these long-term care settings are suggested to be at high risk for loneliness. One Norwegian study found that more than half of nursing home residents who were cognitively intact suffered from loneliness. It is important to note though, that cognitively intact residents make up a small fraction of the nursing home population.
It is important that research is done to explore the problem of loneliness among nursing home residents because many of the characteristics that make up most residents, such as being female, having low income, disabled, poor health status and cognitive function, and recent loss of loved ones, are those that are also related to loneliness. Transitioning into a nursing home can have a serious effect on a resident’s human relationships. Visits from family and loved ones commonly become less frequent. The nursing home environment can also affect the likelihood for intimacy of relationships. Of course residents can meet others who dwell in the facility and facility staff, but such people do not often replace old friends. For most elderly patients, transitioning into a nursing home means no longer having a partner. Independence and the sense of control over one’s own life takes a toll in long-term care settings.
Not only can residents in nursing homes easily feel like objects of other people’s actions, they can also feel that their lives are purposeless or useless when they lose the significant roles they used to play. Moreover, older adults are not an exception to the human need for sexuality and physical touch. However, it is more challenging for those needs of closeness and intimacy to be met in a nursing home.
Recently, more research has been geared toward exploring interventions that could alleviate the loneliness of nursing home residents. Some studies found that using animals or animal-like robots could alleviate loneliness. The nursing home’s physical environment could also play a significant role in the extent to which residents interact with each other. Studies also showed that conducting an intervention in which community-dwelling older adults engage with residents in both the assisted living and nursing home setting resulted in decreased loneliness and improved well-being, cognition, and health, as well as decreased mortality.
If you or a loved one has experienced unnecessary suffering in a nursing home or assisted living facility, such as one in Gardena or Glendale, California, contact the Law Offices of Ben Yeroushalmi today.