It’s well known that loneliness can affect your quality-of-life as you age. Many patients turn to multiple medications to ward off pain, depression, anxiety and insomnia. Researchers from the University of California San Francisco, who analyzed the behavior of 6,000 people aged 73 and up, found the loneliest people took 5 or more drugs at a time. They favored over-the-counter pain relievers, along with prescription medications Zoloft, Ambien, and Diazepam. The effect? Addiction, falls, thinking & memory problems, and even death.
Given these findings, some doctors are now taking a new approach called “social prescribing.” The idea is to avoid drugs, and “de-prescribe” connecting patients to social interventions like support programs, exercise classes, volunteer opportunities, art classes, hobbies, even grief counseling. Is it hard and time consuming? Skeptics say most doctors don’t have enough time to get to know patients, and identify wellness needs that aren’t strictly medical. After all, it’s easy to overlook loneliness and miss the cycle of stress, malnutrition and insomnia, until a patient ends up in the hospital unexpectedly.
UCSF researchers say it’s important for doctors to rethink aging and how they treat it. Most seniors don’t withdraw or isolate themselves, instead preferring to mingle and be active. This new approach uses “social prescriptions” as therapeutic investments, designed to restore & improve mood, activity, and self-esteem.
Sure, it’s imperfect. Some seniors are too depressed and/or anxious, or debilitated to get involved in new activities. But advocates say they’ve seen good results for patients who get a “social prescription,” putting activities on a calendar, drawing motivation and inspiration from new habits and tasks.