We live in technologically advanced times that allow us to readily interact and communicate with family and friends, near or far. Despite this increase in the ability to connect, our elder population continues to suffer from loneliness.
Older adults are more likely, than other age groups, to experience loneliness and it can have a significant impact on their health and well-being.
Aging adults can face many challenges that can contribute to loneliness. Health problems, limited mobility, shrinking social circles and a reduction in stimulating or meaningful conversations/relationships are just a few of the many changes and difficulties that senior citizens face.
How Does Loneliness Affect the Elderly?
In a University of California San Diego study on senior loneliness that was recently published in Aging & Mental Health Journal, several senior participants reported feeling helpless and powerless when they were lonely—highlighting how the social disconnectedness left them vulnerable.
In addition to feeling weak, loneliness can lead to a mental and physical decline and a greater risk of death according to other studies. There’s even an association between senior loneliness and bodily inflammation and conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Unfortunately, solitary seniors may even have the tendency to further isolate themselves through their behaviors or lack of engagement.
The UCal San Diego study also concludes that loneliness is a growing public health concern that rivals smoking and obesity in its impact on shortened life longevity.
Ways to Lesson Senior Loneliness
A number of personal qualities and traits seem to protect aging adults against loneliness according to the UCal San Diego study. Labeled as ‘components of wisdom’, things like spirituality, emotional regulation, self-reflection, decisiveness and compassion, were found to protective against loneliness for some people. It was found that these positive personality characteristics assisted in preventing or better coping with feeling of loneliness.
Here are some suggestions to avoid isolation and loneliness as we age:
Seniors that stay connected with others and are socially active have fewer issues with loneliness. Sharing just one meal a day with family, friends, at a church group or in a senior community can help seniors avoid feeling cut-off and secluded. Creating dependable transportation options for aging elders encourages them to get out, interact with others and avoid seclusion.
Aging adults can be stimulated by staying engaged and in touch with family and friends, both young and old. Seniors feel less isolated when they’re able to spend time, in person or by phone, with other generations.
Maintaining social circles and friendship is another important barrier to loneliness. And relationships with caregivers can be a vital connection that provides regular or constant interaction and affection.
“Research has shown that seniors who have lots of interaction with others experience more mental stimulation and less cognitive decline than those who are cut off and have little engagement with other people,” says Ron Bucci, Senior Executive Director at The Greens at Cannondale. “Meeting new people and participating in events or group outings fosters positive socialization at The Greens and is a critical element of senior living.”
If it’s evident that living alone is causing your elder loved one to experience feelings of loneliness and isolation, then a senior living community might be the answer.
“Senior living that includes a community is THE best single move that aging adults can make to optimize their mental and physical health. The cognitive, psychological and physical effects of inadequate stimulation are a major public health concern among seniors but easily ameliorated when they move to a setting that optimizes interaction with others,” says Bucci.
The availability of regular activities and events, social groups and the gentle encouragement of senior living staff members can help lonely seniors feel more connected. Companionship, friendship and connectedness can keep the damaging effects of loneliness at bay.
For more information on enriched living for seniors, contact The Campus at Cannondale at 203.761.1191.