There are numerous reasons older adults can feel lonely. Recent retirees can struggle with a loss of identity or sense of purpose that a career can provide. Often overlooked, but no less important are the daily social interactions experienced while at work – lunch with co-workers or quick chats around the water cooler. Perhaps there are 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 older adults 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.” Data from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study shows that over 25 percent of Americans over the age of 50 suffer from chronic loneliness. Older adults who are lonely or socially isolated are at 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 plenty of positive ways to address it. Although trying something new can feel awkward or scary at first, the benefits are worth the work. Maximize your efforts by combining strategies – join a Facebook group or seek a volunteer position based on your hobbies or interests. Hopefully, you will find new friends while pursuing an activity that you enjoy. The following tips are by no means an exhaustive list, and useful whether for you, or a loved one you are caring for.
Volunteering usually appears at the top of the list for combatting loneliness, and for good reason – focusing on the needs of others helps us gain perspective. For those who are struggling to find a sense of purpose, volunteering can be especially powerful. Serving as a volunteer not only allows us meet and make new friends, but provides the opportunity to share our wisdom and talents for a good cause. The possibilities are endless – serve as a guest reader or assistant librarian at your local school, or spend time cuddling lonely pups at your community animal shelter.
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.
Taking the time to become fluent in Facebook and other social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, etc.), can open up a whole new world. In addition to connecting you with friends you went to high school with, Facebook also hosts numerous topic-specific groups that you can join. With over 10 million groups available – there is something for pretty much everyone! Most groups are free, they can be public or private, and they provide members the chance to chat about topics that interest them. To search for a specific Facebook group to join, type in the topic in the search bar and select groups to filter the results.
Caregiver Tip: If you are not comfortable 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.
Virtual technology has advanced significantly over the past decade allowing users to chat with friends and family from smartphones and tablet devices. Becoming proficient at Zoom, Skype or FaceTime will not only provide you with a way to see friends and family, but the opportunity to participate in online activities too. 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.
The positive physical and mental benefits of exercising daily are well-documented. For older adults a daily walk or yoga class can alleviate boredom, release stress, and improve mood. Choose an activity that you enjoy and will stick with – swimming, tennis, hiking, yoga, lifting weights, walking, etc. Just be sure 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.
Adopt a Friend
Pets provide their lucky humans with lots of love and unconditional acceptance. There has been plenty of research on the benefits of owning pets – stress relief, providing a sense of purpose, and keeping us social and active are just a few. Owning a pet is a major responsibility, so make sure you are realistic about how much time and money you have available before bringing a new furry friend home. If adopting a pet is not possible, consider volunteering at your local animal shelter. 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 help at a local animal shelter.
Upscale Assisted Living at 305 West End
For a luxurious lifestyle that provides the care you need, look to 305 West End Assisted Living. Our residents enjoy a sophisticated lifestyle, as well as close proximity to some of Manhattan’s most iconic sites.
To learn more about our services and amenities, request your complimentary brochure today.