Functional Medicine Toronto Insight: How Isolation Affects Older Adults

Many functional medicine Toronto patients are experiencing loneliness in their daily lives. This is alarming because it could trigger long-term health issues, such as heart disease and chronic symptoms (i.e. stress), while contributing to chronic conditions like type II diabetes.

“Compared to other age groups, isolation and loneliness may be more harmful to the physical, mental, and emotional health outcomes of older adults, who may have reduced mobility and daily activity engagement or may be managing multiple chronic conditions and mental health challenges,” comments the Institute for Functional Medicine.

Awareness is key to understanding loneliness amongst these members of our community. In this article, we discuss who could be impacted by social isolation and how it might impact health status, as per the functional medicine model. 

Who exactly is at risk

Below is a list of risk factors for social isolation:

  • Being over the age of 80
  • Living by yourself
  • Poor health
  • People who have been diagnosed with an array of diseases (i.e. chronic health concerns, such as heart disease and chronic kidney disease)
  • No regular contact with family members
  • Changes in the family dynamic
  • Low or no opportunities for transportation
  • Low income 
  • Life changes, such as death of a loved one, retirement, etc. 
  • Being in the role of caregiver
  • Unawareness/lack of education on local services
  • Having completed little education
  • Being an immigrant to Canada

Keep in mind these factors don’t always instigate social isolation; in the end, it all depends on how an older adult can handle life changes and the quality of support they get from others.

In a study on loneliness and health care on COPD patients, social isolation was suggested to be a public health matter. In this specific five-year study, “Loneliness was assessed yearly and was found to increase continuously over time, beginning with 8% at baseline and increasing to 14% by year 5,” reported the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The study’s scientific evidence suggests that treating social isolation in an “outpatient setting” might lessen emergency-room visits and enhance the quality of life of seniors.

Making healthy lifestyle decisions to combat social isolation

If functional medicine wisdom were to be applied, loneliness might be tackled based on current lifestyle, biology/medical history, and environmental factors (i.e. mold exposure). By implementing a personalized approach to health care, functional medicine therapies could target physical and emotional health, as they address the patient’s uniqueness. Here are some tips to consider if you’re facing seclusion:

  • Reach out: Please contact your primary care health care providers, including functional medicine practitioners who can address your mind and body. If you’re concerned about venturing outside, ask your practitioner if they offer virtual sessions for patients who want at-home support for clinical care.
  • Make dietary changes: According to the journal Public Health Nutrition, “…[I]individuals experiencing [food insecurity] have increased risks of weight abnormalities, anemia, showing adverse development, diabetes, hypertension, asthma and cancer.” Thus, dietary changes may be considered if you eat processed foods or takeout often at home. Your functional medicine provider may recommend transitioning to the Mediterranean diet, which is nutrient-dense with anti-inflammatory functions; it may even contribute to lessening chronic pain.
  • Get moving: Studies have shown that mind-body techniques, such as yoga or tai chi, could lessen chronic disease risks, boost longevity and promote healthful aging. One study suggested that mind-body fitness regimes are linked to improving depression in seniors. “Results suggested the largest improvement on depressive symptoms after mind-body exercise, followed by aerobic and resistance exercise routines,” the Institute for Functional Medicine explained. If you’re concerned about leaving home, please ask your healthcare provider for personal trainer recommendations; a trainer might be able to meet you at home or somewhere nearby.

Are you ready to improve your well-being? We invite you to contact the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre to uncover new personalized health strategies. 

Our Functional Medicine Approach to Health

At our Toronto-based clinic, our healthcare providers adhere to functional medicine. This means we acknowledge your individual symptoms, and that we’re aware your condition may manifest differently from others. We are also integrative medicine consultants, so other clinical therapies may be considered, including allopathic medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, naturopathic medicine, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, intravenous drip therapies, and more.

Our compassionate care helps ensure that you’re comfortable with treatment plans; we consider your biology, current lifestyle, and environmental factors to tackle the root cause of your health concerns. Our healthcare providers inspire patients to implement lifestyle modifications through empowerment, education and personalized treatments. Integrative and functional medicine may be applied to a wide range of health concerns, such as digestive issues, cellular health, hormonal health, adrenal fatigue, abdominal pain, and more.

Take this opportunity to reinvigorate your mind and body with new health coaching!

A personalized approach to wellness could benefit your long-term health. Our functional medicine Toronto clinic is excited to build a custom health road map just for you. Call (416) 968-6961 to book your session.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting a doctor. Consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website.

 

References:

Kerstin Gerst-Emerson and Jayani Jayawardhana, 2015: Loneliness as a Public Health Issue: The Impact of Loneliness on Health Care Utilization Among Older Adults, American Journal of Public Health 105, 1013_1019, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2014.302427

Krejci, Laura P. MSW; Carter, Kennita MD; Gaudet, Tracy MD. Whole Health: The Vision and Implementation of Personalized, Proactive, Patient-driven Health Care for Veterans. Medical Care: December 2014 – Volume 52 – Issue – p S5-S8 doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000226

Marty PK, Novotny P, Benzo RP. Loneliness and ED Visits in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Mayo Clin Proc Innov Qual Outcomes. 2019 Aug 23;3(3):350-357. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocpiqo.2019.05.002. PMID: 31485574; PMCID: PMC6713837.

Miller KJ, Gonçalves-Bradley DC, Areerob P, Hennessy D, Mesagno C, Grace F. Comparative effectiveness of three exercise types to treat clinical depression in older adults: A systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Ageing Res Rev. 2020 Mar;58:100999. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2019.100999. Epub 2019 Dec 11. PMID: 31837462.

Pourmotabbed A, Moradi S, Babaei A, Ghavami A, Mohammadi H, Jalili C, Symonds ME, Miraghajani M. Food insecurity and mental health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Public Health Nutr. 2020 Jul;23(10):1778-1790. doi: 10.1017/S136898001900435X. Epub 2020 Mar 16. Erratum in: Public Health Nutr. 2020 Jul;23(10):1854. PMID: 32174292.

Social isolation of seniors – Volume 1: Understanding the issue and finding solutions” by the Government of Canada, revised April 14, 2022, viewed on November 22, 2022.

Whole Person Care for Older Adults: A Focus on Social Isolation”, the Institute for Functional Medicine, viewed on November 21, 2022.