Whether you live alone or with others, loneliness is bound to creep in if it feels like meaningful relationships are non-existent. Loneliness can happen to anyone at any age and isn’t specific to a particular group of people. However, combatting loneliness in older adults requires unique considerations. For example, the death of a spouse or partner will leave one person living alone, often for the first time in years. Living alone with health and mobility problems can limit that individual’s functions. Transportation, getting out of the house, and the day-to-day become more difficult. Healthy seniors may lack friends and uncertainty about what to do with their days. All of these things add up.
Elderly loneliness statistics indicate that 43% of seniors report feeling lonely on a regular basis. At the heart of loneliness is sadness, and the danger is that people often become too comfortable in it to recognize its darkness. This is why older adults can truly benefit from family and caregiver help rather than trying to combat it on their own. If you’re bravely trying to find a solution for combatting your own loneliness or you wish to help a loved one, you have reached the first step: recognizing the problem. Now, consider these solutions to help you combat loneliness.
- Make communication a priority. Check in with your loved one throughout the week via a phone call or an in-person visit. Encourage them to express themselves and discover what interests, thoughts, and passions may lay dormant. Most importantly, listen. Make a connection.
- Reach out to family, friends, and neighbors. We’ve heard the phrase, “it takes a village” when referring to raising a child, but sometimes adults also need an entire community to jump in and help as well. Reach out to family, friends, and neighbors and urge them to make some sort of contact with your aging loved one. Suggest sending a card, dropping off food, a small gift, or making a few telephone calls to say “hello” and help make them feel loved and connected.
- Give a hug. People deprived of touch can experience decreased wellness. This is why affection is so important. Hugging is known to increase levels of the “feel-good hormones” serotonin and dopamine, which can reduce depression and anxiety. Something as simple as giving your loved one a hug can enhance their mood and make them feel supported and cared about.
- Get a pet. Pets can offer companionship, mental stimulation, protection, and give a reason to stay active by going for walks, playing, or even petting. Dogs are known to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and boost levels of the happy hormone serotonin, helping to alleviate symptoms of depression and stress from Alzheimer’s. The American Heart Association released a study that says owning or interacting with dogs can help prevent heart disease. There are so many benefits of owning a pet, particularly a dog; however, before getting a pet, it’s important to consider things like the temperament of the pet, its age, and the owner’s ability to take care of it. A greater sense of purpose can be gained from having something to take care of.
- Encourage and facilitate social activities. Promote a sense of purpose and interaction with people by identifying different social opportunities. A planned schedule will help break up the monotony or boredom that can come with social isolation. Make sure any transportation issues are addressed so that getting to and from these social activities is easy. Consider these options:
- Sign up for a class or activity and explore a hobby
- Join a support group, local organization, or club
- Volunteer and help support a cause
- Organize a social dining event with others
- Sign up for visits from volunteers, such as through the “friendly visitor” program
- Encourage religious seniors to maintain attendance at their places of worship
- Use gyms for any amount of exercise, especially if it’s with fellow seniors
- Address mental and physical problems. For some older adults, poor physical health may prevent them from wanting to engage with other people out of embarrassment or shame. For example, if they can no longer hear as well as they once did, or if incontinence is a problem, they may wish to avoid social situations. If this is the case, encourage seniors to visit their doctor. Medicare covers an Annual Wellness Visit and some Medicare Advantage plans offer extra coverage for things like vision, hearing, dental, and health and wellness programs.
- Use technology as a means of communication. Technology opens the door for more ways to make a connection with people. Consider:
- using social media to interact positively with people in the comments section on one of your favorite Facebook pages or online blogs.
- contacting a senior facility and learning how to become an email pen pal to someone.
- calling the Institute on Aging’s 24-hour toll-free Friendship Line to talk to someone for free about feelings of loneliness and having a friendly conversation with someone specialized to offer a caring ear. Founded in 1973, the Friendship Line provides support services including: emotional support, well-being checks, grief support, information and referrals for isolated older adults, and active suicide intervention.
- Let them teach. Teaching can make people feel useful, valued, intelligent, and that they have something to offer. Ask your loved one to show you something they know how to do – such as divulging the secret to a homemade recipe, knitting a scarf, or fixing something around the house.
- Look for new living situations. Although most seniors want to age-in-place in their own home, if living alone is too lonely, alternative living arrangements may be a better solution. To read more about senior housing options, click here: Creative Senior Housing Options for ‘Aging in Place’ With People.