Even though current technology allows us to stay in touch with friends and family members who live far away, the truth is that loneliness is on the rise. A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) states that over one-third of adults over 45 feel lonely, and nearly a quarter of older adults aged 65+ face social isolation. Factors that contribute to these alarming numbers include having children move away, the death of a spouse, or the fear of getting hurt outdoors. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness among the elderly is becoming even more prevalent, as they are one of the groups at higher risk.
How Loneliness Can Negatively Impact Your Health
Socializing is a crucial part of anyone’s well-being – feeling lonely has a tremendously negative impact on mental health, which can then translate into a physical illness. In fact, loneliness significantly increases the risk of premature death as much as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Social isolation not only increases the risk of heart disease by 29% but also the risk of stroke by 32%. To make things worse, patients that suffer from loneliness have a more difficult time recovering. Cognitive diseases are also more prevalent among lonely people, as the risk of dementia increases by a whopping 50% for this group. And, of course, mental health issues like depression or anxiety are very common among socially isolated individuals, which can lead to practices of self-harm and even suicide.
How To Help Seniors Experiencing Loneliness
Whether you’re a concerned family member or just someone that lives near a lonely senior, there are certain things you can do to improve their quality of life:
Start a Conversation
This should be a given, but the best way to help someone who feels lonely is by starting a conversation with them. It can be by either calling them or just asking about their day when they pass by. It’s really true when they say that five minutes of your time means a lot to a lonely senior.
Offer Practical Help
Another way to show a senior that they aren’t alone is by offering help. From doing household chores to helping with anything technological, seniors will be more than grateful for the support. This way, not only will you be assisting them with the tasks themselves, but you’ll also be giving them an opportunity to interact.
Go Outdoors Together
If the senior you’re dealing with doesn’t go out often (whether it’s due to a lack of mobility or fear of injuring themselves) invite them to do something together outside the house. This can be something as simple as going grocery shopping together, but you can both engage in plenty of recreational activities as well. Who knows? Maybe that’s the push they need to lose their fear and become more active in their communities.
What Seniors Can Do To Improve Their Situation
If you’re the one feeling alone, there are also many things you can do to improve your well-being. The first thing that comes to mind is engaging with the community around you by either joining a local sports team, taking a walk around the park, or doing volunteer work. However, this is easier said than done, as you might have mobility issues or anxiety about leaving the house. That’s OK, though. There are other steps you can take to overcome your loneliness:
See a Professional
Your doctor is more than prepared to help you overcome loneliness. Whether it’s by offering you practical tips, directing you to one of their specialized colleagues, or by sharing local organizations with you, you’ll come out of the office with a plan of action. There are also various organizations and hotlines that operate nationwide that you can approach, such as the Area Agencies on Aging and the National Council on Aging.
Consider Home Sharing
Home sharing is an excellent way to get a trustworthy roommate. There are various programs online that help seniors find the perfect person to live with. On top of assisting you with the monthly expenses by paying rent, this is an excellent opportunity to find someone to socialize with every day without losing your sense of independence.
Medical Alert Systems as a Reassurance
Medical alert systems are also an ideal way to help seniors who are alone, as they offer reassurance by providing a quick way to get assistance in case of emergency. For example, on-the-go mobile alert systems are the perfect option to allow seniors to overcome their fear of going out, as users can call for help with a push of a button. And there are even companies that allow users to call in non-emergencies for a quick chat.
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