It has been observed that American society, which prioritizes youth, often neglects its elderly population. Due to various factors, such as personal choices or circumstances beyond their control, many older adults find themselves isolated from their family, friends, and other social connections. This sense of Senior Loneliness can make them feel unvalued, unnecessary, and insignificant, making them feel dispensable.
This state of being disengaged, forgotten, or marginalized is indicative of an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation among the elderly, as noted by researchers and healthcare professionals. Therefore, experts advise that it is the responsibility of everyone with a senior citizen to make them feel like they belong to something larger than themselves.
What Is Senior Loneliness?
Loneliness and isolation are related yet distinct concepts affecting many older adults. Loneliness refers to feeling alone, regardless of the number of social contacts one has. On the other hand, isolation refers to a lack of personal or social connections. Unfortunately, increasing numbers of seniors report experiencing these feelings, and this was true even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that these feelings have become even more prevalent during these challenging times.
The growing trend of loneliness and isolation among seniors is particularly concerning because studies have linked these feelings to a range of physical and emotional illnesses that can significantly reduce an older person’s quality of life. As a result, loneliness and isolation are now widely recognized as a serious public health risk that needs to be addressed.
Affects Senior Health
The impact of loneliness on senior health is significant. Researchers suggest that loneliness can affect the body similarly to chronic stress. According to a study conducted by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), loneliness can increase stress hormones like cortisol, which can negatively impact the immune system and cause inflammation. Long-term loneliness can be debilitating and may increase the risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, and obesity. In fact, research indicates that social detachment and feelings of loneliness may be associated with the development of brain biomarkers typically seen in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
Causes of Loneliness and Isolation Among Seniors
There are several causes that can contribute to senior loneliness and isolation. One of the main reasons is that multigenerational families are becoming less common, so many older Americans do not live with adult children or grandchildren. This can result in infrequent in-person interactions with family due to distance and busy schedules.
Losing a spouse is another factor that can cause some seniors to withdraw and become more isolated as they grieve, often experiencing depression or anxiety in the process. Additionally, many seniors have health conditions that can make it difficult for them to get out or interact with others, such as impaired vision, hearing, or diabetes.
As seniors age, they experience a variety of changes that can disrupt the connections they once enjoyed with others. For example, retiring from work can be a major adjustment, as it may be challenging to replace the social connections and relationships that work provides. It can also be difficult for seniors to see their immediate peer group dwindling in size as people close to them pass away, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
All of these causes can contribute to senior loneliness and isolation, which can be detrimental to their physical and emotional health. It’s important for individuals and society as a whole to recognize and address this serious public health issue.
Ways to Beat Senior Loneliness
Here are 7 ways for seniors to overcome loneliness and social isolation:
- Volunteering: Seniors can volunteer for a nonprofit or a school to feel useful, give back to society, and interact with people of all ages and backgrounds.
- Places of Worship: For many seniors, religious centers provide social and spiritual engagement, where various needs can be met in the embrace of a congregation or community.
- Home Care Aides: Professional home care aides can be crucial connection points for seniors who don’t have many people in their lives or who can’t get out of the house. A caregiver’s touch and presence can be vital for an isolated senior.
- Senior Living Residences: For some seniors, living in a senior living residence can provide them with the stability, routine, and social circle they miss living on their own.
- Senior Community Centers: Senior community centers provide nurturing relationships and daily activities that promote physical and emotional well-being in a safe, friendly environment.
- Engage with Seniors: Adult children, grandchildren, schools, and community organizations can engage with seniors, tapping into their wisdom and expertise and making them feel valued and relevant.
- Affinity Programs: Seniors can join affinity programs, clubs, or organizations that reconnect them to their passions and pastimes.
Proactive Approach to Engage Seniors
It’s important to take a proactive approach to engage seniors rather than waiting for them to reach out for help. Simply asking an older person what they used to love to do or what they would love to do now can be a great way to start a conversation and discover their interests. Encouraging them to share more about themselves and showing genuine interest in their story can help them feel valued and validated.
Regardless of age, human beings have a fundamental need for social interaction, attention, purpose, and care. This doesn’t change in old age. As a society, we need to acknowledge and invite seniors to participate and engage with us, whether it’s through volunteering, joining a community center, or sharing their knowledge and skills with younger generations. By taking an active role in connecting with seniors, we can ensure that they feel valued and included in our society.