How to Combat the Loneliness in Seniors

28 May 2020 Assisted Living

Loneliness in seniors is a real issue, and yet, it may not be obvious right away that your loved one is suffering from it.

Many of us tend to dismiss feeling lonely as a temporary problem.

While feelings of loneliness may not stay with a person forever, you cannot assume that it will go away on its own. Feelings of loneliness can be pervasive, and that’s a problem because it can cause both mental anguish and physical problems.

This article will shine a light on the toll that loneliness can take, especially on senior citizens. It will also contain tips detailing how you can help your older relatives manage those emotions better.

Without further ado, let’s dive more into how feelings of loneliness affect senior citizens.

New Living Arrangements Can Cause Loneliness

Compared to other nations, senior citizens living alone is not such a rare phenomenon in the United States.

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 27 % of adults over the age of sixty lives alone in the country. That’s eleven points higher than senior citizens living alone in the other countries included in the study.

Understandably, living by yourself with no consistent human interaction can be an isolating experience. It’s easy to feel disconnected from the rest of the world if you’re living like that.

There are different reasons why senior citizens may find themselves living alone.

Many older couples tend to live separately from their children. When one of them dies, it’s not surprising to see the surviving spouse deal with loneliness and depression.

Older individuals may feel increasingly more isolated due to their network of friends collapsing. If friends start passing away, it may become more difficult for the others to remain in contact.

Parents who live with their children may also feel their home is emptier without them.

Physical and Mental Hurdles Can Cause Loneliness

It’s normal for the loss of a spouse, friends, and even children moving away to cause feelings of loneliness to swell in older individuals. However, they are not the only explanation for why a cheerful senior citizen’s demeanor changes for the worse.

Loneliness can affect even elderly people who still live with their loved ones.

For them, the reason they feel lonely could be due to physical and mental issues.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a senior citizen for a moment. You’ve had hearing difficulties for a while now. At the dinner table, you can see a lively conversation taking place between your kids and grandkids, but you cannot keep up with the conversation.

You may wind up feeling left out because of that.

Senior citizens may also become more hesitant to go out and spend time with their friends if they recently had an accident. If they have a serious disease, they may feel isolated because they cannot convey what they are going through properly to their loved ones.

Retirement is one more possible cause of loneliness in an elderly person. People who have been with the same company for decades may have a hard time adjusting to a new reality where they no longer work.

Leaving a long-time job can lead to some older people losing their sense of purpose.

The bottom line is that loneliness doesn’t only affect those who live by themselves. Even if you are consistently in the company of others, you may still find feelings of loneliness to be inescapable.

Why Loneliness Is Dangerous for Senior Citizens

It would be one thing if loneliness was something that only affected a person’s mental condition. To be clear, you still need to address loneliness even if its ill effects were to the mind.

As we now know, though, its effects can be more devastating than that.

Studies that have looked at the social isolation and loneliness on senior citizens have turned up some worrisome findings.

Per the National Institute on Aging, the studies have found that people who are feeling lonely or isolated tend to be at a greater risk for certain conditions and diseases.

To be more specific, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, anxiety, and depression increases if you often experience loneliness. On top of that, a person’s immune system and cognitive functions may decline.

The thought of dying earlier than expected also becomes a greater concern if you often feel lonely.

To put the dangers of loneliness into a better context, consider some additional findings from a 2018 study.

Via an article from the AARP, researchers in Finland found that loneliness could increase the odds of individuals between forty to sixty-nine dying prematurely if they had pre-existing cardiovascular problems, while simultaneously dealing with loneliness.

Individuals who identified as lonely who also suffered a heart attack saw their odds of dying prematurely increase by about 25 %. For lonely individuals who have a history of strokes, their odds of dying early spiked by 32 %.

A separate study indicated that senior citizens were also more likely to be hospitalized if feeling lonely is a common occurrence for them.

Loneliness can take a great toll on a person’s psyche, but that’s not all it does. Recent studies are now showing that people are at real risk for dying earlier than expected if they continually allow their feelings of loneliness to overwhelm them.

The Biological Explanation for Why Loneliness Is Dangerous

There is a clear risk associated with prolonged loneliness, especially for the older members of the community. Why are the thoughts in your head impacting your body?

Going back to the AARP article, it highlighted a study conducted by the late John T. Cacioppo, Ph.D. as well as the work of Steve Cole, Ph.D. Both Dr. Cacioppo and Dr. Cole conducted a pilot study that featured the usage of blood samples from older individuals who were residing in the Chicago area.

After taking blood samples, the researchers found that loneliness could have a significant impact on how cells acted when it comes to promoting inflammation. Specifically, loneliness can lead to increased inflammation.

Inflammation is not necessarily a bad thing. Upon an injury or contracting an infection, certain parts of your body may experience inflammation. The inflammation can tell your body which specific parts you need to fix.

Unfortunately, prolonged inflammation can be harmful. It can lead to serious ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease or cancer.

Along with promoting inflammation, feeling lonely may also impact your body’s ability to fight off infections.

Simply put, you can become more vulnerable to diseases if you are in a constant state of feeling lonely. That helps explain why loneliness in seniors can be so deadly. It should also serve as the main motivation for why we should do everything in our power to eliminate these emotions in senior citizens.

The Different Ways to Combat Loneliness in Seniors

So, how should we go about trying to keep our older loved ones from experiencing loneliness? There is no surefire way to do that because people have different personalities.

You can try out different methods of alleviating loneliness until you find one that permanently puts a smile on your loved one’s face.

Listed below are some suggestions for you to try with your older relative.

Strike Up a Conversation with Your Older Loved One

It’s amazing what talking to your loved one can do.

At their age, it’s not unusual for senior citizens to have difficulty communicating because they are hard of hearing or have trouble speaking. Beyond that, some senior citizens may also feel out of place if the topics are matters, they do not know about.

Try to make time for your older relatives and sit down with them for a chat. If the two of you are struggling to find common ground, try to ask your relative to share a story about your family or maybe about their career.

Reminiscing about old times can be therapeutic for senior citizens. Maybe you can even share a joke or two during the middle of your conversation to keep things light-hearted.

Take an Interest in Their Hobbies

Perhaps you’ve already exhausted your conversation topics with your loved one. That’s fine because you can move on to activities such as taking part in their hobbies.

Ask your parent or grandparent about how they prefer to pass the time and join them in their activity. They may be up for a few games of chess, or they may invite you to spend time gardening with them.

It’s also possible that your older relative only wants to relax and watch a movie. In that case, you can whip up a batch of popcorn and sit down with them for the next two hours or so.

Encourage Them to Take Up New Hobbies

One of the oldest sayings in the English language indicates that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, that may be because that old dog didn’t have a diligent partner working with him/her.

Ask your older relative about other hobbies they’re interested in that they have not tried. Ask them if they would like to give those a try and that you are willing to assist.

There’s no guarantee that their attempts to take up new hobbies will bear fruit, but knowing you’re supporting them may go a long way toward helping them shake off those feelings of loneliness.

Teach Them to Use New Forms of Technology

It’s much easier for many of us to escape boredom and avoid feeling lonely due to our smart devices.

If you’re feeling bored, you can go online and read up about a topic you’re interested in or maybe watch some videos. Many senior citizens are afraid to try new technology, but they can get the hang of it if you take the time to teach them.

Smartphones may be hard to use for senior citizens because of their small screens, so it may be better to give your loved one a laptop instead. You can find all kinds of senior-friendly laptops these days.

With a laptop in front of them, senior citizens can connect to an online world that may have been inaccessible to them previously.

Aid in Their Search to Find a Part-Time Job

Thanks to how prevalent the internet has become; people can work online and make a decent living. A full-time online job may be too taxing for a senior citizen, but they may still be interested in some part-time work.

These days, you can find freelance work in writing online. Some companies also offer jobs to people who can work as online tutors. There are all kinds of other jobs available online.

A part-time job may not completely fill the void created by retiring from an established career, but it will certainly help.

Help Them Move to an Assisted Living Facility

Given how demanding jobs can be, it’s not always possible for working adults to set aside time in their schedule to spend with their older loved ones. Some senior citizens may crave constant companionship, and you cannot provide that because of your current circumstances.

In that case, why not help your loved one move to an assisted living facility. They can spend time with other senior citizens living in the facility, and that could lead to them making new friends.

Moving your older loved one to a new community where they can meet and befriend new people can be the key to getting rid of their loneliness. If you’re looking for a great facility, go ahead and get in touch with Bethany Homes.