Loneliness, characterized by the state of feeling alone, is experienced by many people. So, you aren’t alone when you feel lonely.
According to an online survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association, 72 percent of Americans reported feeling lonely with 31 percent experiencing loneliness at least once per week. Loneliness is especially prevalent in middle-aged and older adults. AARP estimates over 42.6 million adults ages 45+ experience chronic loneliness. Unfortunately, the effects of social isolation and loneliness are comparable to those of obesity and smoking, including early death. Moreover, loneliness speeds up cognitive decline in older adults.
It can be difficult to tell when a loved one is lonely. For instance, they could live with a spouse and be surrounded by friends but still believe they lack emotional support. According to Elderly Care, here are some signs to watch for:
- They mention they feel lonely or that no one visits them.
- They seem either sad and withdrawn, or especially talkative and seeking extra physical contact.
- They fabricate illnesses or pains for attention.
- They spend a lot of time with a “best friend” or “significant other” they just met (be cautious: scammers tend to latch onto lonely seniors).
Loneliness and social isolation in seniors can develop into depression. However, you can take steps to lift their mood. Here are four ideas that can bring older adults peace and happiness.
Gathering Friends, Family and You
If visits from friends, family members or yourself have become sparse, increase the frequency. For example, share a meal or go shopping together. Even watching a movie together or chatting can be uplifting. Encourage your loved one’s friends and other family members to do the same. If distance or busy schedules are issues, schedule specific times or days to call or video chat.
Out and About
Limited mobility and transportation can hinder social activities, which can lead to isolation. Instead, offer to take a drive with your loved one or run errands with them. Simply getting outside the house can make a positive impact on your loved one’s mood. If they have club meetings or get-togethers, drive them or set up an account with a ride-sharing company, such as Lyft or Uber. Home care companies offer transportation services as well. (For more ideas on how in-home care supports independent living, download our 50 Ways We Can Help checklist.)
People who are newly living alone, such as empty nesters or widows/widowers, may need some company to ease the transition. Ask your loved one if they would be interested in having a pet;. Sometimes, a furry friend is the answer. If they want human companionship, consider looking for a housemate through a service, such as Silvernest. Does your older loved one also need extra help around the house? Consider hiring a caregiver or companion.
If they are interested in moving, look for independent living facilities or retirement communities, which house adults around the same age and offer planned mixers or activities for the residents. Another option for them: move in with a friend or family member.
If your loved one has a small circle of friends and family, you should help them branch out and meet new people. There are senior centers, many of which offer more than just bingo and shuffle board: fitness programs, enrichment classes or daytrips. Smartphone app or websites, such as Meetup, help individuals find local groups or clubs to join that meet in person. If you and your loved one are looking for something virtual, Facebook Groups are a great way to meet people with similar interests. To participate, your loved one will need to create a Facebook profile.
By taking a proactive approach in combating senior loneliness and social isolation, you can have a big impact on your loved one’s health and well-being. If you are looking for fun, simple activities to do with the older adult in your life, check out the Activities and Lifestyle section of our blog.