Aging and Loneliness
Aging and loneliness don’t always go hand in hand, but statistically, we become lonelier as we age.
Why – a couple of reasons?
As we begin to age, our friends and family members die. Or they become unable to get around as well as they could before. It’s harder for us to make new friends and to move into social circles different than the ones we had before.
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Consider this . . .
Another factor to consider is when someone reaches that wonderful age of retirement. However, when we retire what exactly do we really do? For some people, it’s the best thing in the world. They could travel more now, spending time with family, etc. All those things we couldn’t do when we were working. For others, it means isolation from the people that were once a big part of our lives.
On the plus side, we no longer have to get up early every morning to go to work. But on the negative side, we no longer have to get up early every morning and go to work. It can be a double-edged sword. This is why a lot of us simply don’t retire.
We are afraid we won’t have that interaction with others every day. And our purpose in life – in our eyes – has become “less than” because we no longer are doing a “job.” This can be extremely disheartening for so many of us.
Another staggering statistic is that people who are lonely are 50% more likely to die early than people who have good social relationships. That’s a lot of people. Some of that loneliness can stem from the fact that, as a society, we don’t communicate in person or even on the phone anymore. We send an email or a text to someone. In some cases, we might actually call. But chances are, it’s not very often and we are in a hurry to get off the phone.
We’ve all become too busy to stop by and say hello to our aging neighbor that lives next door or just down the street. Probably if you think about it, how many cars have you seen coming or going from there? I’m guessing not many – that can lead to extreme loneliness, which of course, can lead to major depression. It’s really sad when you stop to think about it.
Another reason loneliness can occur for seniors is that we might have a health problem that keeps us from leaving home. We might have lost a lot of our mobility and it makes it difficult to get around. And this is doubly troublesome when friends our age are going through the same things. If no one can leave the house it makes it really hard to get together with friends socially.
Some of us are no longer able to drive. You hear so many older people saying, “I’ve got to get home before dark. I can’t see very well at night”. Or the case might be that we are unable to see well during the day too when it’s bright outside.
Others of us might not be able to hear well. And when we do see others we can’t hear half of what they are saying to us. So the conversation is a lot of, “what and huh”. That’s just embarrassing for a lot of us. And being on a budget can sometimes prevent being able to purchase hearing aids – that in itself can be embarrassing.
Let’s face it – family units are not what they used to be. When most of us were younger we’d take a trip to see our grandparents – on both sides of the family. The extended family meant something. The grandparents, aunts, and uncles all hung out while all of the cousins ran around playing all day.
This just doesn’t seem to happen anymore. Everyone moves away, starts their own lives. Grandparents and sometimes even parents are moved lower and lower on the priority list of the younger people.
Loneliness leads to health issues
Being lonely can also lead to an array of health issues for seniors. Because being lonely for a senior is like stress is for a younger person. It can lead to lower immunity, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease on the physical side. And depression on the mental side.
Older adults who feel lonely are also at a higher risk of becoming unable to care for themselves. They can’t even find the motivation needed to perform daily tasks. Like getting dressed, going to the bathroom, eating, or bathing. They become unable to live independently. And that can lead to more depression because they know they’ll have to eventually depend on someone to help them.
Getting Back On Track
So, what exactly can we do to help those who might be feeling lonely and even depressed? There are a number of ways to get them back on track. If you just spend a little time with them. And find out what it is they really enjoy and are really interested in:
- Spend some time getting to know them. Find out what lights a fire under them and really gets them excited. They may have just forgotten while they were working every single day. Once you find out what it is, do it with them.
If you are unable to do it with them, find a group in your area. Or at a local senior center and get them involved in an activity they enjoy. After they get around some other seniors they might even find some new things they’d like to try.
- Devise a plan between you and other family members or friends. Make sure they don’t spend too much time alone. No, you can’t be there all of the time. But do your best to include them in things you or your family are doing.
Do you have a certain night of the week that you go see a movie? Or have movie night at home? If so, include them in the plans. It can make or break how someone is feeling that day. Make the effort.
- Be a good student when you are with seniors – they can teach you so, so much. You can get one of the best history lessons from an older person. They have lived through many changes during their lifetime. They were around before all of the technology we enjoy now. And they can tell you how they used to live.
If you are talking with your grandparents, it’s a great way to get to know more about your parents and other family members. And everyone wants to know what their parents were like when they were kids. They can also teach you some life skills if you let them.
Does your grandmother like to crochet or do needlepoint? If so, let her teach you how to do it. It will make her day if she feels useful and helpful. And hey, you’ll learn something that you can pass on to your grandkids one day.
- Introducing them to other seniors – we all know some – can be a way to start new friendships. If you know that Rose down the street doesn’t have a lot of people in her social circle, introduce her to Phyllis who also would like to get out and do things. It’s a win – win for everyone. They’ll be able to form a bond that likely wouldn’t have come to fruition if you hadn’t gotten them together. We all have friends, who have friends, who have friends. Get everyone together and let the friendships develop.
- Encouraging a senior to adopt a pet can be a great way to combat loneliness. They’ll have someone to talk to around the house. And the sense of purpose they might be missing will also return. They’ll have to care for the pet every day. And the pet will be a constant companion that truly loves them.
Some studies have shown that people who have pets live longer than those who don’t. The presence and companionship of a pet can mean the world to someone who otherwise might have no companion at all.
- Spend time with a senior at least once a week when possible. Just having them over for coffee, tea or lunch can be a great experience for everyone. It gives you a chance to get to know them better and they’ll get to know you better.
Being face to face with someone is so much better than sending out that email or shooting off that text. You can actually feel the love when you are face to face.
However, if there is a week when you just can’t make that face time with them, be sure and call just to do a check-in with them. And make sure all is well until next week when you see them.
- If you have a parent or someone you love in any type of assisted living or nursing home, make it a priority to go and see them regularly. Not that it happens a lot – but it does – elder abuse is less likely to happen if a family member comes regularly to spend time with the person. If someone is showing up on a regular basis, chances are, no one will hurt them because it will be noticed more quickly.
It is easy to go about our lives and simply forget about our elders. But work to make an extra effort to see that they’re okay. That they are healthy – mentally and physically, and just spend some time with them. If we’re lucky, one day we’ll all be seniors, and wouldn’t it be sad if we ended up as one of the lonely ones.
Even if a person isn’t a member of your family, it’s still nice to know someone cares about you – care about that senior that might not have anyone else to care for and love them. Both of your lives will be richer and better for it.