Seniors are more at risk for feelings of loneliness than younger adults. This is especially true for those who live alone at home.
Solitude can actually even affect physical well-being. Studies have shown that continued isolation leads to a higher risk for health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety/depression, Alzheimer’s, and more.
In fact, loneliness can be just as harmful to a person’s lifespan as obesity or smoking.
Recently, researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine conducted a study on social isolation in the elderly.
The goal? To find commonalities in feelings of loneliness among seniors in retirement communities, which are specifically designed to prevent solitude.
The study was done by interviewing 30 participants between the ages of 65 and 92. They were asked to describe their experiences with loneliness, as well as their methods and wisdom for coping with such feelings.
The elderly participants were interviewed using a series of questions, including:
- Do you ever feel lonely, and if so, how often, and how would you describe the feelings?
- If you don’t feel lonely, why do you think others may feel lonely?
- How might aging play a role in loneliness?
- What do you do, or think that others can do, to not feel lonely anymore?
In total, 85% of the seniors interviewed were found to have moderate to high levels of loneliness.
We’ve compiled the most poignant answers from this series of interviews, in the hopes that it may shed some light on the issue of loneliness in the elderly.
On top of this, the wisdom we can learn from seniors cannot be overemphasized.
What Causes Loneliness in the Elderly?
There are many factors involved in feelings of isolation. For seniors, these can encompass age-specific factors, a lack of social skills, or simply enjoying solitude.
When speaking about the risk factors of loneliness, the elderly participants said:
“Well, as you get older, there’s less and less people. You know, people die off around you, and a world of loneliness. And I suppose too, as you get older, it’s harder to get around and see the people that you do know.”
“I hear a lot of them don’t have social skills. They’re perfectly capable people but they don’t have the social skills.”
How Seniors View Loneliness
As previously mentioned, some people don’t view being alone as a negative thing. Some seek it of their own volition. However, there are also those who feel helpless and sad when isolated beyond their control.
“I can think of periods where I felt lonely, and it was a sense of not being attached, not having very much meaning, and not feeling very hopeful.”
“It’s a feeling of nothing… You’re not feeling glad. You’re not feeling sad. You’re feeling nothing, and you don’t want to do anything…that’s the bad part. People get into that.”
Coping with Loneliness
This is where the wisdom of our elders becomes apparent. Paying attention to their words can impact how we live our lives, and change the way we see and care for seniors.
When speaking about how they cope with feelings of isolation, the interviewees gave these powerful answers:
“Well, it’s something I have to accept, cause I’ve got it, and it’s something there’s no use being afraid of […] I used to mountain climb… If I can’t walk anymore, I’ll crawl, so you have to learn how to be realistic and not brood about it… I know I’m getting older but I, I consider life is a transition.”
In addition to accepting the effects of aging, one woman pointed to compassion and helping others as methods to cope with loneliness.
“Another technique that I had for years, if you’re feeling lonely then go out and do something for somebody else…That’s proactive.”
Some participants felt that by seeking out companionship, they could change their situation. This came with the challenge of accepting the risk of rejection.
“I felt lonely because I chose to stay away from people […] as soon as I started getting involved, everybody has welcomed you for the most part. I mean, I’ve had my rejections asking if I could join somebody at a table or whatever and say okay… I’ll go find another table, no big deal.”
Many seniors noted that their retirement homes have ways of combating loneliness. These can help alleviate boredom and encourage social interaction.
“We have the putting green here, I can go do that. We have pool tables here, I can go on up and shoot a game of pool or something, and our poker games [.] If nothing else, I’ll go down to the lobby, and I can find somebody down there to talk to, and I can go into the library, and they’ve got a computer in there, and they got a dart board there, I can go that […] I just have to get up and do something.”
These interviews show that even at retirement centers, where there is a large focus on getting seniors to interact and avoid being alone, solitude can still be a problem. There are many environmental and personal factors that lead to loneliness.
However, wisdom plays an important role in how the aging population cope with these feelings. Whether it be performing kind acts for others or simply accepting the changes that come with age, these techniques can create meaningful relationships and help a senior retain a sense of purpose.
If you’re looking for companion care for yourself or a loved one, Complete Care can help. We have qualified caregivers who can do everything from providing a friendly face to nursing & physical care.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us today for a free consultation.
Information source can be found here.