Elderly Loneliness: A Growing Health Concern

Apr 4, 2017

Elderly Loneliness: A Growing Health Concern

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Despite the ability to connect with just about anyone, anywhere, elderly loneliness may be worse than ever before. Sure, for every isolating feature of the digital age, there are innumerable other benefits and conveniences unlike anything we’ve known before — so then why is elderly loneliness on the rise?

If it is evident to your senior that our social fabric is patched with digital platforms and relatively effortless communication, then they may be doing something right. Then again, if it’s not, it could be that your senior didn’t A) grow up with the internet, or B) haven’t come to adopt it to any useful capacity. There’s no harm in that, and it’s possible that they may be better off when it comes to navigating the way we’re all coming to interact.

But all digital conundrums aside, there are still far too many seniors who experience a degree of loneliness — an issue that is in need of some serious attention.

Research from the University of California, San Francisco had reported that 18% of seniors live alone, while 43% experienced elderly loneliness on a regular basis. This is simply unacceptable.

Lonely seniors not only experience a faster decline in their health, but isolated and aging adults also showed a 59 % greater risk of mental and physical maladies than their more social peers. With 1 out of every 7 Alzheimer’s patients living alone, what can we do to help seniors avoid loneliness and continue thriving?

It’s an increasingly difficult issue to tackle as a whole, so breaking elderly loneliness down can be a helpful place to start.

What Causes Elderly Loneliness?

Aging is a process we’ll all encounter in one form or another, and yet the experience itself is far from predictable. It can be difficult for many people to deal with the effects aging has on their bodies, mind, and other people around them. Still, being able to identify where issues are arising is usually the first step to finding a solution.

Surprisingly, two-thirds of the older adults who participated in the UCSF study and reported that they experienced loneliness despite actually living with a partner or being married. What does this mean? It’s not about being around people, but rather experiencing a deeper meaning behind those relationships.

The basic substance of connection for many is authentic, shared experiences and deep communication expressing what it means to be alive. To scale that back — it’s the appreciation of one another and cooperating to make the day a little better wherever possible.

Listening Goes a Long Way to Avoiding Elderly Loneliness

Sometimes, the people who are closest to us are the one we listen to the least — whether out of the sheer frequency of their presence or the assumption that they aren’t going anywhere. Obviously, this thinking is under baked and but still too common.

Older adults have so many incredible stories and life experiences, but they really need the go-ahead to relay such information. Beyond visiting a loved one regularly, it’s important to encourage the active sharing of stories, life lessons, or just conversations to get to the less surface level topics. At that rate, it may even be a great idea to start documenting your loved one’s stories in the form of recordings or in writing. This way conversations can become more of a documentary-like experience in order to add a degree of productivity to the interactions.

The hope is that listening and reflecting is one way to really help people break out of feelings of loneliness or isolation, allowing relatable moments to gain a healthy perspective. 

Identify Seclusion and Make a Plan

Even if someone isn’t actively expressing their feelings of loneliness or isolation, it doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing these things. For those who live in senior living communities, it’s not uncommon for people to have difficulty with really thriving, despite the many amenities and opportunities for different activities. Even though there are plenty of social interactions to be had, seniors who feel isolated may have a tendency to display behaviors that only further remove them from groups. Before long, someone won’t even have a network to turn to when they have the chance to overcome their loneliness.

This is why it’s important to recognize this issue early on. No matter where a loved one is living, at the first sign of loneliness try to reawaken what it is they are passionate about and encourage attention there. Everyone has at least one thing that really imparts a sense of meaning. Whether it’s photography, music, gardening, woodworking, writing, or just something that makes life better, chances are there’s a club or society to get involved with. From there, common interests are a quick way to build senior friendships, hopefully working against the pull of isolation if only bit-by-bit.

Connections Across the Way and Beyond the Gap 

Life moves many families in all sorts of directions and potentially to many different locations. When it’s nearly impossible to make the physical trek to visit an elderly loved one, take advantage of the avenues available. If they’re on social media — great! Though it’s likely you’ll be making contact over the phone, through the post, and whichever method won’t go unnoticed. And in the span of things, how difficult is a simple phone call or a hand-written letter compared to their impact? Maybe it’s just about sending them their favorite food, a gift of nostalgic significance, or anything to help them feel connected to the rest of the family.

Finding a method, or series of methods that works for you or your elderly loved one isn’t always obvious. That said, go with your intuition about what makes someone tick and don’t settle until you’ve done what’s within your reason to help. Fighting elderly loneliness can come down to youthful inclusion!

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