As our population continues to age, senior loneliness is becoming an increasingly problematic issue. According to a report conducted by the Administration for Community Living and the Administration on Ageing, nearly thirty percent of older adults in the United States live alone. That equates to almost fourteen million people .
Researchers are quick to point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of these people are lonely, but it raises some important questions about social isolation and loneliness among elderly populations .
Why Are Seniors Lonely?
There are a number of reasons why an older adult might be more prone to loneliness than someone who is younger. One of the primary causes of loneliness is that as people age, their social circles tend to shrink.
Friends and family members move to other places, and gradually begin to pass away. Age can often bring about mobility issues, which can make it difficult even to get together with people who live nearby, and issues with hearing or vision can make communicating seem more of a hassle than it’s worth.
What’s more, many senior citizens experience feelings of embarrassment if they require the use of a cane or a walker or any other device that they need to assist them with everyday tasks. These devices are obvious signs of aging and can leave the user feeling ashamed, and therefore less likely to want to leave their homes.
It is difficult enough when one person is feeling this way, but often many of their peers are dealing with similarly difficult feelings, which creates an even stronger barrier for bringing them together .
How Does Senior Loneliness Affect the Edlery’s Health?
The National Poll on Healthy Aging has determined that one in three older adults are lonely, and it is having a detrimental effect on their health. The authors of the report explain that loneliness can impact memory, physical well-being, life expectancy, and mental health.
“In fact, some research suggests that chronic loneliness may shorten life expectancy even more than being overweight or sedentary, and just as much as smoking,” they said .
Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weaker immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s Disease .
Conversely, those who engage in regular social activities appear to live longer, experience an improved mood and tend to have a stronger sense of purpose, which has been shown to improve cognitive function .
Donate Your Words
A study in the UK recently found that nearly one in five older adults had conversations with only three people during a one-week period. What’s even more alarming is that of that group, nearly nine percent regularly go an entire week without speaking face-to-face with a single person. That means there are approximately 225 thousand elderly adults going without social contact regularly .
Caroline Abrahams, charity director for an organization called Age UK, explains that these statistics show that hundreds of thousands of older adults won’t even share a simple “hello, how are you?” with someone this week. It is something that many of us take for granted, but can really brighten the day of an older person .
The organization has partnered with Cadbury Dairy Milk to launch a new campaign called “Donate Your Words”, to help combat loneliness in senior citizens.
The campaign is educating the public about loneliness among older populations and is encouraging them to simply say hello to an elderly neighbor, invite them over for a coffee or cup of tea, or even offer to help them with some daily tasks.
They also encourage people to call older relatives on the phone and offer ways in which local people can get involved with Age UK .
How Else Can We Combat Senior Loneliness?
There have been many different initiatives put in place across the globe to combat senior loneliness, including a nightclub for the elderly, coffee corners at grocery stores, and playgrounds for seniors.
The number one thing you can do to help the older adults in your life is to really listen to them. Tina Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist, and author of The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty, says that asking a senior citizen “tell me more” is like giving them a gift.
“You’ve got to really dig deep and find out what their interests were before and get them to try and awaken those forgotten activities,” she says .
Get to know them
Finding out what an older person likes to do can provide you with a blueprint for a “loneliness eradication plan”. Encourage them to participate in activities that align with their interests- sometimes older people just need a push to get involved in activities again .
Another way to connect with an older person and to spend time with them is to get them to teach you something. Perhaps there’s a skill they have, like sewing, that you could learn from them, or maybe they have a famous apple pie recipe they could teach you. This is a fun way to spend time with them, and giving them the opportunity to share their knowledge with you can give them a purpose .
Don’t be afraid to encourage other friends or family members to reach out to the elderly person in your life, too. Our days tend to get very busy and our schedules fill up quickly, but if you remind others to take twenty to thirty minutes a couple of times a week to reach out to your elderly mother, aunt, or neighbor, it will go a long way in bringing joy into that person’s life .
Aging can be difficult, but we have the power as a collective to help the older generation enjoy their time during old age, simply by taking an interest in them and engaging with them regularly.
A simple hello to your neighbor as you leave for work in the morning, or a quick phone call to your aging mother can make a massive difference in their day, and may even help prolong their life.
- “Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risk.” NIH. April 23, 2019.
- “Combatting the Epidemic of Loneliness in Seniors.” Aging Care. Anne-Marie Botek.
- “One in Three Seniors Is Lonely. Here’s How It’s Hurting Their Health.” Time. Jamie Ducharme. March 4, 2019.
- “Loneliness: clinical import and interventions.” NCBI. Stephanie Cacioppo et al. March 2015.
- “Lonely Lives: Alarming Number Of Seniors Go Entire Week Without Talking To Anyone.” Study Finds. September 7, 2019.
- “Discover the stories of amazing older people.” Age UK