Additional Effects of Isolation-Induced Depression

Social isolation negatively impacts people of any age. Elders tend to be more susceptible to it, partially because they are not always as independent as younger people. Social isolation can lead to isolation-induced depression and subject the person to a range of symptoms. The effects can be extensive, even affect people beyond the individual

Mental Impacts

Social isolation can be the start of a mental health chain reaction. Isolation is a physical condition. Loneliness is an emotional outcome to a cognitive state caused by isolation. Isolation can lead to loneliness. Loneliness can lead to depression, but it can also lead to a variety of other psychiatric disorders. Loneliness can increase a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease and personality disorders, according to research reported in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research.

The study also stated that 40% of people over 65 report feeling lonely at various times in their lives. This is not unusual. Most people feel lonely once in a while. What is different for older adults is the coping skills learned at an earlier age are not as effective when we are older. It is especially true for people over 70 , women who are widowed, and those living alone.

NOTE: These are three of the risk factors used to prioritize people for programs offered by the Idaho Commission on Aging and Idaho’s six area Agencies on aging, funded by the State of Idaho and the Administration for Community Living (ACL).

Physical Health

When common symptoms such as sleep, appetite and exercise changes are understood, it is easier to recognize how depression can affect a person’s general physical health. Since many seniors have medical conditions or physical impairments, they are at higher risk. Like mental health, the far-reaching impacts on physical health are not always fully recognized. According to The Pathophysiology of Perceived Social Isolation: Effects on Health and Mortality, the physical effects can include:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
    atherosclerosis, hypertension, coronary artery disease, stroke, heart attack, and cardiac failure
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity
  • Abnormal endocrine activity
    hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands
  • Reduced immune system function
    increased risk of infectious disease (like Epstein-Barr and Covid-19 viruses )and cancer

The study found, “There are clear linkages between [social isolation (PSI)] and the cardiovascular system, neuroendocrine system, and cognitive functioning. PSI also leads to depression, cognitive decline, and sleep problems. The mechanisms through which PSI causes these effects are neural, hormonal, genetic, emotional, and behavioral. The effects of PSI on health are both direct and indirect.”

A Life or Death Condition

It is not an overstatement to say that isolation can potentially mean the difference between life or death. Research published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences shared that social isolation is “as strong a risk factor for morbidity and mortality as smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and high blood pressure.” This helps us understand that social engagement is a critical activity that can alter a person’s lifespan.

Social isolation is as strong a risk factor for morbidity and mortality as smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and high blood pressure.

We base some of our life choices on our interaction with others. Most of us are more likely to get dressed in the morning if we are expecting a neighbor or service call. We are more likely to eat regularly when we live with others. We are more likely to exercise when others are around. We are more likely to take constructive steps for our health and well-being if we have someone to prompt us, participate with us or be accountable to. Having some social interaction not only reduces the isolation, it also promotes healthier habits.

Learn more about the “social control hypothesis.”

Isolation and depression cause significant health issues. While they do not act alone, they are connected to an increase in oxidative stress, decreased immunity, and diminished inflammatory control. All of these make it harder for a person’s body to fight serious, life-threatening conditions.

Depression and the Family

Isolation-induced depression is not only tough on the senior—it is hard on the family, too. When depression occurs, communication by the person decreases. Being shut out of the elder’s life or being asked to not visit causes family to feel rejected. When a family loses contact, it creates worry, especially if the elder has medical or physical issues. When there is limited contact, family and friends can’t see or hear the elder, making it difficult to assess the elder’s mental and/or physical health.

When communication is scarce, it becomes harder to pick up on subtle changes to a person’s habits, behaviors, physical, emotional and psychological changes. The elder’s physical and mental health can further deteriorate before others recognize it and professional intervention can occur.

Early diagnosis and treatment prevent broader problems. Left untreated, a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health can be further impacted. Family and friends may be further alienated, causing a downward spiral for everyone. The person may actually die earlier due to the systemic impact isolation-induced depression can have. Remember, suicide is also an unfortunate but real outcome of depression, especially if left untreated. Early intervention can save a life.

Isolation-Induced Depression pages on this site
Isolation-induced Depression Home | Understanding | Identifying | Effects | Other Effects | Preventing
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Disclaimer: Information is for general education purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical or therapeutic advice. It is provided as a courtesy only. No content on the ICOA website, social media platforms, e-mail communications or links therein should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician