Health Info & Resources for Seniors
Loneliness and Social Connections
AARP conducted a national survey of adults 45 and older to gauge the extent of their feelings of loneliness and isolation. Additionally the study made recommendations for coping with loneliness.
Among adults age 45 and older, 1 in 3 are lonely to some degree. This held true compared to other surveys in the past.
Older adults with lower incomes are at greater risk. Struggling financially can add to loneliness, anxiety and depression.
The size of one’s social network and being physically isolated are the top predictors of loneliness. The more friends you have the less likely to feel alone. Conversely, fewer friends can increase feelings of isolation.
The ways in which older adults cope with loneliness vary depending on how frequently they feel lonely. Feeling lonely can leading to coping by eating, watching TV or surfing the Internet, whereas those who seldom feel lonely are more likely to reach out and spend time with friends and family.
Loneliness is not usually caused by a single event and it affects everyone, thus presenting multiple opportunities to intervene. Although traumatic events like divorce or death can immediately give rise to loneliness, the combination of that and these other predictors contribute to loneliness and isolation. Particular events like divorce can bring some support from family and friends, but continuing support is best.
Few of us have discussed feelings of loneliness with our health care provider. Although a health provider can give you access to help, we rarely discuss our feelings of loneliness with our health provider.
Getting to know one’s neighbors can help reduce loneliness and increase social connections. The more friends and acquaintances the better all things being equal.
Technology holds promise to help reduce loneliness and social isolation, but it is not a substitute for human interaction. Technology, especially the Internet, can be a double-edged sword. It can help you reach out to others and stay in contact with family and friends while at the same time it can cause one to isolate oneself with that very same technology.
In summary we can look at these triggers or conditions to determine likeliness of feeling lonely:
Robust social network
Weekly or more contact with friends
Weekly or more contact with siblings
More hours slept at night
More frequent sexual activity
More frequent participation in hobbies and clubs
More frequent volunteering and religious involvement
Being physically isolated
Urban community environment
Increased use of technology for communication
What You Can Do
Any one of us can have a traumatic event that would make us retreat from others and ourselves. On the other hand loneliness may develop gradually so that you might not even notice its effects.
If you need help:
Join a church appropriate support group.
Many churches or houses of worship in the area offer support groups geared toward someone who feels alone. If you do not want to join a group you can talk to a priest, minister, rabbi or similar person with whom can can confide and seek counsel.
Join a Senior Center
The senior centers in the Lehigh Valley are there specifically to provide a place where people of an age can gather, make friends and enjoy activities. This can be of great benefit when you feel alone and would like to spend time with others and learn new things. Just simply leaving your home and engaging with others will lift your spritis and be good for you physically as well.
If You Are Housebound
If it is difficult for you to leave your home, you can look to an agency like R.S.V.P. and engage a home visitor. This person would come to your home and spend time with you. The person would be a companion for part of the day. These companions are vetted and insured so you are safe to allow them into your home.
Let's not forget the power of a companion or service dog. It is well documented that a dog (or alternative animal) can raise your spirits. Simply petting a dog for a few minutes can lower your blood pleasure. These dogs will come to your home for a visit where they will make you smile. Where they might put their heads on your lap. Who can resist a beautiful dog coming to you to say "Hi".
As long as you take a positive step to engage with others you will benefit greatly. Your attitude and your health will improve. Someone once said that prolonged isolation is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.