While new knowledge becomes available each year about promising potential treatments for Alzheimer's disease, recent research is also focusing on the prevention of the disease or mitigation of its symptoms.
A healthy and long life is what most of us strive for, and we respect the wisdom of the elderly. However, their long life often comes with the grief of outliving their spouses, friends, and sometimes their children. If they can’t maintain and make new meaningful connections as they age, they are at risk for crippling loneliness.
Loneliness is feeling sad about a lack of human connections and interactions. While social isolation may make most people feel lonely, loneliness is not the same as being alone. Not everyone who lives alone feels lonely, and not all people who feel lonely live alone. People of any age may feel lonely, but the condition is especially common in the elderly.
Risks Factors for Loneliness among Seniors
Studies from the University of California San Francisco show that loneliness among senior citizens is pervasive and contributes to poor health and even death. The Center for Disease Control and Campaign to End Loneliness outline several risk factors for people 65 and over.
These risk factors include:
● Being an immigrant who lost touch with loved ones from their home country
● Feeling marginalized by the wider community
● Living alone
● Being physically limited by illness or disability
● Lacking the financial means to do activities or visit others
● Grieving the loss of a loved one
● Not having meaningful outlets for their talents
● Being a full-time caregiver
● Struggling with incontinence
● Lacking the ability to drive or take public transportation
● Having a communication barrier from language, loss of hearing, or inability to talk
● Feeling depressed or anxious and lacking the motivation to join activities
Overcoming Loneliness with Meaningful Social Engagement
The first step to overcoming loneliness is acknowledging it and a need to change some habits. If you are the one experiencing loneliness, think about small ways you can start connecting again. Even the smallest positive change might put you on the right path for reaching out more and more. If a spouse or loved one is feeling lonely, you might invite them to join you in some of these activities to get the ball rolling. Look for opportunities to talk, laugh, cry, and share in the following ways:
- Join a club, class, or religious institution to get to know people with similar values and interests—if you can’t drive, look into ridesharing, public transportation, and online groups
- Invite one or two friends over to share a meal, watch a movie, or play cards
- Try an exercise class geared toward senior citizens
- Call or visit a family member or friend
- Volunteer your time and talents at a school, animal shelter, or place of worship
- Get a job that you enjoy to interact more with others
Remember that everyone needs physical contact too. Don’t be shy about asking for a hug. Consider getting a cat or dog to satisfy that need.
You might also need to consider changing your living arrangements to make interactions easier. Even the most loving family members will not be able to visit as often as you would like if you live far away. Some seniors love residential programs with communal dining, planned outings, and frequent activities. Others prefer living with a family member or in a senior citizen community where everyone has their own homes. With a little research and keeping an open mind, you might find that changing your home is the best thing you can do to meet new friends and stay engaged.