How to Help Lonely Seniors Combat Social Isolation
How to Help Lonely Seniors Combat Social Isolation
Loneliness doesn’t discriminate - people of all ages can certainly be affected by feelings of isolation – but, seniors are uniquely vulnerable to serious health consequences resulting from social alienation. Feelings of seclusion can have adverse affects on your mental health, including depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, and dementia, but it can also affect your physical well-being. Senior loneliness may increase one’s risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and long-term impaired mobility.
According to the most recent United States Census Bureau, approximately 28% of individuals over the age of 65 live alone. Of course, living alone does not always induce feelings of isolation but it can be a contributing factor. The causes of senior loneliness can include loss of a loved one, living far from family, a decline of mobility, and medical issues such as arthritis or chronic disease.
Should we just assume that loneliness is a part of aging? Absolutely not. Even though it can be a little more challenging to find solutions when we have to address mobility and health constraints, we need to acknowledge the importance of social interaction and encourage seniors to take advantage of opportunities that will help prevent senior loneliness and keep you living the healthy, social, and active life you deserve.
Tips to Fight Senior Loneliness
- Don’t let injury or illness cause social isolation.
It’s easy to get frustrated by an illness or injury that keeps you from seeing friends, leaving your home, or engaging in recreational activity. If you are too sick or injured to leave the house, you can still benefit from some social interaction by calling, texting, or emailing friends or family members regularly.
As long as you are not contagious, invite friends or loved ones to your home – and don’t worry about being the perfect host. Anyone visiting will be happy just to spend time with you and won’t be judging your ability, or lack thereof, to perform household chores. If you are able to move around with an injury, ask a loved one to come take you out to lunch or just go for a short ride. It’s amazing how a change of scene can improve your mood and the time spent with someone chatting and laughing can help you feel less lonely.
- Get connected to your community.
Embrace the opportunities within your community to find people with shared interests. If you live alone, contact a local community center, church, or recreation center. If you live in an assisted living facility, you will likely have a weekly calendar of events and activities to choose from. Try a few things until you find people you enjoy spending time with.
- Use social media to stay in touch with family and friends.
Social media can help keep you in touch with old friends, new friends, and family spread all over the country. Facebook and Instagram are great sources of online communication with people you choose to connect with, and privacy settings will help you feel secure. You can enjoy keeping up with growing grandkids, travel adventures, and milestones – and it can give you a way to continue your relationships even if you can’t be there in person.
Find volunteer opportunities that appeal to your interests and passions. If you like to travel, contact service organizations that bring seniors together to make a difference in other states or countries. Itineraries will be geared for the abilities of the group, and you can make an impact on those in need around the globe.
If you would enjoy a more regular routine of volunteering, find local groups in need of help. Whether you volunteer at a school, animal shelter, homeless shelter, or food bank, you will enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with helping others and will be surrounded by other people that share your commitment.
- Stay physically and mentally active.
Many people over the age of 65 are still working full-time jobs, but try not to let long days get in the way of getting regular physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week, but there are more than just physical health benefits to working out. Activities that include social interaction can keep you feeling good mentally, as well. Try yoga, a walking group, or a cycling class. Seeing familiar faces and engaging in small talk might be the first step in developing friendships that can keep loneliness at bay.
- Consider a pet.
Pets can give you a sense of purpose and lots of love, but consider the long-term commitment and make sure you are comfortable meeting the needs of the pet you adopt. For instance, having a dog to walk twice a day can provide companionship and an excuse to get some exercise, but if you work long hours or travel often, you should take that into consideration before welcoming a furry friend into your life.
Pets are used in hospitals and schools across the country to provide emotional support and a positive distraction from mild illness and injury, so consider the benefits of welcoming a pet into your home.
- Take a class.
Going “back to school” doesn’t have to be too academic, but is there a subject that you’d like to learn more about? English literature, Greek mythology, foreign language, or nutrition classes at a local community college may be interesting and affordable. Consider a pottery, art, or photography class where you may be able to meet people to work on projects outside of the classroom, as well.
- Join a book club.
Book clubs are often organized by libraries and local bookshops, and can be more important to your overall health than you may think. Reading can help sharpen cognitive skills, enhance memory, and reduce stress, but being a part of a club to discuss a shared book can be fun and entertaining, too.
- Find a new hobby.
Are you newly retired? Is there a hobby you’ve always wanted to pick up but simply didn’t have time? This may be your chance to find some new hobbies. Whether it’s golfing, tennis, snow-shoeing, or knitting, find a way to make it a social experience as well as a physical or mental one.
- Go outside your comfort zone.
It can be hard to try something new at any age, or walk into a room without knowing anyone, but going outside your comfort zone can be incredibly worthwhile. Expanding your social circle can help combat senior loneliness and bring some wonderful friends into your life.
Even though the causes of senior loneliness vary, solutions offered by utilizing technology to stay in touch or going outside your comfort zone to join a club or class can be effective in preventing social isolation and keeping you healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally.