The Very Real Dangers of Senior LonelinessThe Very Real Dangers of Senior Loneliness

Physical problems are good at making themselves known. You have a clear pain in a specific part of your body that you can describe to the doctor to get the treatment you need. Some seniors might not do a great job of letting their caregivers know about all their pains, but for the most part physical pains are problems that are easy to spot.

Emotional problems are more complicated. Many seniors come from an era where they were taught not to complain much, or even to see mental health issues as something to be ashamed of.  If they feel isolated and alone, it can be easy to decide it’s their own problem and they’d better just deal with it without complaining. But loneliness (and its very serious companion depression) can be as deadly as many physical ailments if not treated properly.

Senior Loneliness is Common

Some who have covered the subject of senior isolation are prone to refer to it as a “loneliness epidemic.” There’s something to that – the numbers of people affected are significant.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 11 million people over 65 – that’s over a third of the total – live alone.

Living alone in and of itself doesn’t mean a senior will suffer from the devastating effects of loneliness. Those that get out and participate in social activities, see their family members and friends regularly, and make the effort to stay in contact with other people don’t have much to worry about. But as age makes mobility more difficult, limits transportation options, and takes more and more of a senior’s loved ones away in death, the risks grow.

The Health Effects of Loneliness

Researchers have started to find evidence for what many people in the geriatric profession have long known to be true – loneliness can seriously limit a person’s life span, not to mention their quality of life in its last years. A 2012 study showed a link between social isolation and higher rates of mortality for people over 52.

That should be troubling enough, but that’s not all. Loneliness:

Many experts compare the health risks of loneliness to those of obesity and smoking. It’s becoming widely regarded as a health risk that’s just as dangerous, but far less discussed.

3 Ways to Prevent Loneliness

Once you understand how dangerous loneliness can be, the question becomes how to ward it off. Tapping into any community you already have is recommended, but you might consider suggesting some of these options to the seniors you care about to help add some new social interactions to life.

1. Pursue new social activities.

See if there’s a meetup or club in your area that focuses on something they’re interested in. If getting there is an issue, reach out to others in the group to find out if carpooling is an option. Whether it’s water aerobics classes at the local YMCA, a knitting club, or getting more involved in church activities, making sure to put some social gatherings on the calendar will mean increasing the amount of contact a senior has with other people.

2. Volunteer

Research local volunteer opportunities. Sites like Volunteer Match make it easy to peruse the causes that could use some extra help and find one that’s a good fit for what your loved one cares about. Not only will they meet new people, they’ll get that fulfilling feeling that comes with doing something meaningful.

3. Adopt a pet.

Research shows that pets are good for our health. They decrease the risk of depression, help bring blood pressure and cholesterol rates down, and reduce stress levels – in short, they help counteract all those bad things loneliness can cause. Many shelters offer senior-to-senior pet adoption programs, so you can skip dealing with potty training and just enjoy the companionship of an animal that needs love too.

Loneliness can creep up on seniors if it’s allowed to. Keeping it at bay requires some proactive effort, but it can be done. Look into the resources in your community that can help and sit down and get some actual plans on the calendar to make sure they happen.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and lifelong student with an ongoing curiousity to learn and explore new things. She turns that interest to researching and exploring subjects helpful to seniors and their families for SeniorAdvisor.com.

12 Comments

  1. Stephanie Sharp January 7, 2016 Reply

    Thank you for bringing awareness to this important issue. As a nurse, I see this behind the scenes. Seniors in long term care facilities need more interaction than just the nursing staff and other facility employees. I have shared this on Facebook to help spread awareness.

  2. Mabelle Milne January 9, 2016 Reply

    Would like advise <reg. assisted living,independent mobility and care so far. age 77 y/o .I am looking for location in assisting living facility within 1,000 1,500 dollars a month. Areas needed mosttly between WILMINGTON AND PHILADELFIA NEAR TRANSPORT TO NYC. please send info to [email protected] ASAP/
    Plan on vsiiting this coming summer to investigate benefits since i am a USA citizen.
    Thank you very much.
    Mabelle Milne.

  3. Nikki Berry January 19, 2016 Reply

    I recently lost my mom…she was 92, but declined rapidly when my dad’s dementia became so bad he accused her of infidelity using rather vulgar language. We tried to explain to her that he didn’t realize what he was saying, but she was not comforted.
    Having only been closely involved with my parents’ care for the last year, I was not up to speed on many aspects of caring for seniors: leaving their longtime home, moving up near where I lived so they could be in a facility near me, just even putting them in a facility, taking them for medical appts, etc. It was daunting…but thru it all I forgot to just sit and hug my mom, tell her I loved her, help her eat, etc. Even tho’ I sat by her side all day in the hospital and rehab, I was like a parent, insisting that she ‘eat a little more’, use her inhaler, drink more water, etc. I forgot to be just her daughter (her only child) and give her some tender love & affection. I was not prepared for her passing…I still had so much to share with her. Perhaps others will see this and learn from it.

    • Ingrid Walker February 3, 2016 Reply

      Thank you for sharing this – we all need to be reminded of the LOVE needed

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