Chronic Loneliness in the Elderly: How to Help Yourself or Someone Else
Saturday Jul 31st, 2021
Chronic loneliness can affect every part of your life. If you've ever felt lonely you know that it can impact your happiness. Sadly, many elderly people today are lonely. But loneliness is not an inevitable part of aging.
Why are so many older adults feeling lonely? Here are three factors that come into play:
1. Lack of social connections
People are, in general, busier and we move from place to place more than we used to before, we are less likely to know our neighbors. And studies found that 61 percent of older adults who have never talked to their neighbors are lonely. As well, it seems as if fewer people are reaching out to those around them.
2. Living alone
For much of human history, most people remained close to their families from birth to death. However, more seniors live alone today than ever before, for all kinds of reasons. For example, adult children often move far away from their parents for employment opportunities, and many retired seniors move to places with warmer climates
3. Declining health
Does poor health cause people to be lonelier, or are lonely people more likely to have poor health? The link between health and loneliness is complex.
Helping With Senior Loneliness: Solutions for Supporting a Friend or Loved One
Watching someone close to you struggle with loneliness can be painful. This is particularly true if you live far away or are busy with other responsibilities. But by taking the time to help prevent someone's loneliness or address his or her lonely feelings, serious health issues can be avoided down the road.
However, figuring out how to get rid of loneliness in a friend or loved one isn't always easy. You must consider his or her unique personality and history. Here are some strategies that provide a starting point:
·Check in with the seniors in your life as often as you can—but not just to monitor them.
This can be a tricky balance. Many older adults are fiercely independent. However, grown children who ignore their parents can also cause a great deal of stress in seniors' lives. (After all, nobody likes to feel forgotten.) So keep the consequences of loneliness in mind, and try to take the time to check in. Many people find that scheduling specific times to talk can make keeping in touch a regular habit.
·If you're separated by distance, send cards and letters. (Or email or chat online if possible.)
Encourage seniors to explore technology, even if they're intimidated by it. But be patient if they don't "get it" right away. (The user interfaces on electronic devices aren't always very senior-friendly, and that isn't the fault of seniors.) Also, send photos. When it comes to keeping in touch, a picture really can be worth a thousand words.
·Ask questions to encourage seniors to share their thoughts and tell them about your own life.
Ask for advice when it's appropriate to do so. Everyone likes to feel useful, and seniors often have a wealth of wisdom and past experiences that we overlook.
·When you're out shopping or doing errands together, be patient with your older friends and loved ones.
Remember that something as simple as a trip to the grocery store might be a mundane task for you, but it may be a social event for someone who is isolated in daily life. Beyond being patient with the seniors in our lives, we can help the elderly in our community by recognizing their humanity and need for social connection. (For example, the older woman holding up the line by talking to the bank teller might be having her only conversation of the week.)
·Help explore transportation options.
You might live too far away or be too busy to act as a chauffeur. But other options are available. Check out your friend or loved one's local Area Agency on Aging to find some alternatives.
·If you live far away, investigate volunteer contacts.
Many volunteer organizations can arrange personal visits and provide other services that help lessen a senior's loneliness.
·Talk to seniors about their living situations.
Even the most active and engaged seniors can reach a point where they may need a different living situation. Fortunately, many opotions for senior living incorporate regular opportunities for social contact.
You Don't Have to Feel Alone
Chronic loneliness can have far-reaching effects in our lives. But there are many ways to improve our feelings of connection with other people. So, if you feel lonely, start talking about it with someone such as a medical professional. Remember: You're not alone in your feelings. And help is available.