There are numerous reasons older adults may feel lonely. For example, recent retirees may struggle with a loss of identity or a sense of purpose that a career can provide.
Often overlooked, but no less important, are the daily social interactions experienced at work – lunch with co-workers or quick chats around the water cooler.
There may also be mobility issues or embarrassment about a medical condition preventing regular meetups with friends and family.
With so many challenging circumstances – both internal and external – it is understandable why so many seniors struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Loneliness Can Be Harmful to Your Health
The impact of loneliness and social isolation among older adults is a well-researched topic. The CDC defines loneliness as “the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact” — and social isolation as “a lack of social connections.”
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, approximately 25 percent of Americans 65 or older are socially isolated, and many also report feeling lonely.
Seniors who are lonely or socially isolated may have an increased risk for a variety of illnesses, including dementia, depression, heart disease, and stroke.
Read on for some steps you can take if you, or someone you are caring for, is lonely.
5 Strategies for Overcoming Loneliness in Older Adults
While loneliness can feel overwhelming, there are several positive ways to address it. Although trying something new can initially feel awkward or scary, the benefits are worth the effort.
Maximize your efforts by combining strategies – join a Facebook group or seek a volunteer position based on your hobbies or interests. You may find new friends who share similar interests while pursuing an activity you enjoy.
The following tips may be helpful for you or a loved one to overcome loneliness.
Volunteering can be especially powerful for those struggling to find a sense of purpose. Serving as a volunteer not only allows us to meet and make new friends but provides the opportunity to share our wisdom and talents for a good cause.
Volunteer options include serving as a guest reader or assistant librarian at your local school or cuddling lonely pups at your community animal shelter.
Consider causes and interests that you find meaningful and connect with related organizations in your community. You may be surprised how quickly you feel empowered to make a difference.
Caregiver Tip: Help your loved one search for positions that interest them, and make the initial connection between them and the organization. Go slowly and encourage your loved one to try something new.
2. Get Social
Becoming fluent in Facebook and other social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, etc.) can benefit seniors. In addition to connecting you with former friends, Facebook hosts numerous topic-specific groups you can join.
With over 10 million groups available, there is something for everyone. Most groups are free, can be public or private, and allow members to chat about topics that interest them.
To search for a specific Facebook group to join, type the topic into the search bar and select groups to filter the results.
Caregiver Tip: If you are uncomfortable teaching your loved one the nuances of social media, search for a class through your local library or senior center. Alternatively, grandchildren can serve as great teachers if they are willing and available.
3. Embrace Technology
Virtual technology has advanced significantly over the past decade, allowing users to chat with friends and family from smartphones and tablets. Becoming proficient at Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime will enable you to see friends and family and also participate in online activities.
Virtual craft classes, book clubs, exercise groups, and Friday night poker games are becoming more commonplace – offering adults with mobility or transportation issues additional ways to connect.
Caregiver Tip: Similar to social media, search for a class through your local library or senior center if you are not comfortable teaching technology. Again, grandchildren can serve as great teachers if they are willing and available.
4. Exercise Daily
Choose an activity that you enjoy and will stick with, like swimming, tennis, hiking, yoga, lifting weights, or walking. It’s important to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Caregiver Tip: Check with your local YMCA or senior center for exercise classes. Virtual classes are also available in most areas – check with your local fitness and yoga studios.
5. Adopt a Pet
Pets provide their owners with lots of love and unconditional acceptance. Research suggests that pet ownership offers many benefits, including reducing stress, providing a sense of purpose, and keeping us social and active.
Owning a pet is a significant responsibility, so make sure you are realistic about how much time and money you have available before bringing a new pet home.
Consider volunteering at your local animal shelter if pet adoption isn’t an option. There are plenty of dogs and cats who want and need your attention and love.
Caregiver Tip: If your loved one has decided to adopt a pet, help them search for the best breed for their situation – size, temperament, and energy level. If adding a pet is not possible, help your loved one search for ways to volunteer at a local animal shelter.
Find Social Connections and Enriching Opportunities at 305 West End
Our luxury senior living community offers residents a daily calendar of enrichment and socialization opportunities. Additionally, we are perfectly located near numerous attractions and parks, including Lincoln Center, Central Park, The Beacon Theater, and the beautiful Hudson River. You’ll have endless shopping, dining, and conveniences at your doorstep.