Loneliness can strike at any age. For seniors loneliness can cause serious health consequences, raising the risks of an earlier-than-expected death and the loss of physical functioning, this according to a study conducted by the University of California. Aging experts are saying the number of seniors affected by loneliness is growing.
What really is loneliness? Loneliness is “a sense of not having meaningful contact with others, accompanied by painful distress.” Something to keep in mind, being alone does not mean a person is lonely and sometimes, a person can be in a crowd and still feel lonely. Loneliness in seniors is often caused by the decrease in social contacts because of retirement, the death of friends and family, or lack of mobility.
What can be done to help seniors overcome loneliness?
- Encourage your loved one not to live alone. This is our favorite option. Senior retirement communities, such as Canterbury Manor, provide a variety of opportunities for residents to have meaningful contact with others. Socializing over a cup of coffee, out to lunch with the girls, transportation to appointments, and a good game of bridge, are just some of the opportunities for meaningful contact with people.
- Help a senior learn to use a computer. There is social media such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with family and friends; there’s Skype to engage in a “face-to-face” conversation; and there are plenty of classes, support groups, and discussion groups that a senior can participate in so they are mentally engaged. (If you use this option: it might be good to discuss the dangers of providing too much personal information on the internet.)
- Help set up some transportation options. One of the biggest factors behind isolation that can lead to loneliness is lack of transportation. Many seniors no longer drive, or they fear driving at night or on unfamiliar routes. Good options include Access Buses, setting up an account with a local Taxi company, or making connections at a church – sometimes a parishioner is available to help with driving.
- Encourage the senior to get involved with volunteer activities such as reading with a first-grade class; visit the local senior center to participate in morning yoga, or join a book club. Having some place to visit on a scheduled routine can take a senior’s minds off of feeling lonely and gives them something to look forward to.
Keep in mind: loneliness is curable and preventable. But sometimes a senior may need a little help reconnecting with people. Please take time this holiday season to visit the senior in your life. A conversation or a plate of Christmas cookies can bring happiness.