Chickens Strut Their Way into Nursing Homes

I’ve written about the epidemic of loneliness before, and how it affects all age groups.

One age group that is often more affected than some of the other age groups is the elderly, with multiple negative consequences. Here is an excerpt from an article at AgingCare:

In addition to the damaging mental effects of feeling that one lacks fulfilling personal relationships, feeling lonely can also take a toll on one’s physical health. A University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) study found that participants 60 years old and older who reported feeling lonely saw a 45 percent increase in their risk of death. Isolated survey respondents also had a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline than their more social counterparts. This decline manifested specifically in participants’ abilities to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), the six basic tasks that are necessary for truly independent living. In other words, loneliness has the potential to accelerate a senior’s need for assistance from a family caregiver or another source of long-term care. 

Loneliness is thought to act on the body in a way that is similar to chronic stress. It raises the levels of stress hormones like cortisol in the body, which impairs immune responses and contributes to inflammation, mental illness and conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry even found that loneliness may be associated with the development of brain biomarkers associated with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.

Lastly, psychologists from the University of Chicago analyzed data from an ongoing multi-generational cardiovascular study that began in 1948 and discovered another remarkable characteristic of loneliness: It is contagious. Older adults who feel lonesome are more prone to behave in ways that may cause other people to not want to be around them. Researchers found that solitary seniors have a tendency to further isolate themselves by pushing people away and not making efforts to engage with others. Furthermore, the few people that lonely seniors interact with are likely to become lonely themselves and follow the same path to the outskirts of their social networks. This has serious implications on the health and social lives of family members who are caring for lonely seniors.

The article also offers some suggestions, but here is a unique one from the UK. HenPower brings together older people and hen-keeping to combat loneliness and depression and improve wellbeing.

Here is a video that explains the idea:

A 12-month study of the project by Northumbria University used differing recognized health scales. Published in 2014 the evaluation found HenPower:

  • Improves the health and wellbeing of older people (referred to as Hensioners)
  • Reduces depression and loneliness in older people

It seems like a great idea; I wonder how long it will take until the idea catches on in the U.S.

P.S. I probably spent half my time on this blog trying to come up with a clever headline; as you can see, I did not succeed. I kept trying to think of something in the “why did the chicken cross the road” genre, but to no avail. But I did use the hunt and peck approach to type this post…


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