Preventing Loneliness in Older Adults
July 7, 2022
By Danielle Andersen
Loneliness Is Common Among Older Adults – Here Is How to Spot it and Suggestions on How to Tackle It
Loneliness is a serious and common situation faced by adults over the age of 65. More than 40 percent of older adults regularly experience loneliness, according to a University of California at San Francisco study, and the feeling of separation and disconnect from others does more than just make you feel empty – it can also lead to health problems.
While loneliness is a serious issue, there are plenty of resources available to individuals who are looking for companionship. This blog looks at loneliness in older adults, its ramifications, how you can spot it, and what you can do to help.
Loneliness in Adults: A True Epidemic
Older adults are at an increased risk of feeling loneliness and facing social isolation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes. Loneliness is a natural occurrence for many and the result of a combination of many factors. As adults age, it is more likely that they will experience the loss of family and friends. Chronic illness may prevent them from leaving the house as much as they used to, and hearing loss may further isolate them from those around them. Many older adults who remain in their homes find their neighborhoods change with time, and those who used to be good friends move away.
Loneliness can be hard to describe. While technically it is being isolated or removed from others and can be expressed as a feeling of depression or sadness caused by the lack of company, the state of becoming lonely can often arrive without notice and be blamed on several serious ailments.
Health Impacts to Be Aware Of
The aging adult loneliness epidemic has been studied widely, and what researchers found was that the feeling of loneliness is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actual impact. Studies have found that:
- Loneliness increases cognitive decline and the risk of dementia: Older adults who live alone have higher rates of cognitive decline and a 60 percent greater risk of dementia.
- Isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of death by 45 percent, causing isolated adults to experience health declines at a more rapid rate.
- Loneliness can cause heart disease: Older adults who suffer from loneliness or isolation are 29 percent more likely to develop heart disease.
- Loneliness makes older adults more vulnerable to scams and abuse: With fewer people around, abuse is more likely to occur, researchers have found, and older adults aching for social connections are more likely to lose money or valuables to scammers.
How to Spot Loneliness: Signs to Look For
One of the biggest challenges to confronting loneliness is admitting it is occurring. If you are caring for an individual, loneliness may not be as easy to spot as other conditions such as vision loss or bruises from falling. Here are some signs to look for:
- They spend a lot of time alone: While this may seem obvious, it may not be fully clear how much time a person is spending alone unless you are with that person around the clock.
- They fall behind on household tasks and personal hygiene: Loneliness has strong ties to depression. Conditions and signs associated with depression may be indicators. This includes not being able to start or finish regular tasks that were otherwise normal and simple.
- They get stuck on negativity: Another sign of loneliness is harboring constant negative feelings. Having a friend around could help an individual laugh off normal bad news, and without that companionship, isolated negative feelings could cascade into a nonstop stream of negative expressions.
- They seem to be ill more frequently: Frequent illness can be a sign that an individual is depressed and experiencing loneliness. Without companionship, aches and pains can become more serious. Those who feel alone are more likely to experience disturbed sleep and increased stress levels, and their bodies are less equipped to fight off illnesses. An older adult who is living alone, may be less likely to report an illness, causing it to snowball into a larger problem.
Confronting Loneliness: Simple Things You Can Do
Whether you are an adult who is experiencing loneliness, or you have a someone in your life who is feeling lonely, the good news is that there is a lot that can be done to tackle and even erase these feelings. Here is a short list of ideas:
- Call: Talking with or visiting with an individual who is feeling alone is a smart and easy first step. Showing you care will provide a psychological boost to that individual, and it will also provide an opportunity to understand what level of loneliness they are experiencing and if it warrants more concerted intervention.
- Adopt a pet: This age-old tactic is always recommended to prevent loneliness for one good reason: It works! Pets provide companionship and are loyal and consistent. They reduce the feelings of isolation and loneliness and fulfill the human need to experience healing touch. A small dog or cat, or even a pet that requires less care like a hamster or goldfish, can be a significant first step in filling a void that is causing harmful feelings of loneliness.
- Start a new hobby: While it may be a large change to adopt new routines, getting started on a new hobby can be a way to ease feelings of isolation and even introduce a new set of friends. Many times, older adults may rediscover old hobbies they once enjoyed but stopped taking part in. Some hobbies to consider could include board games, puzzles, gardening, yoga, crafting, or scrapbooking. Many of these may lead to joining clubs or social groups which can further ease feelings of loneliness.
- Personal home care services: Aging service providers like Knute Nelson can offer home health care services that provide support for older adults. This can include a variety of services, including help with dressing, grooming, laundry, running errands, meal prep, light housekeeping, and companionship. It can also include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.
- Consider a senior living community: Senior living communities like those at Knute Nelson, provide opportunities for aging adults to socialize and participate in many different activities with other members of the community.
While loneliness is common in older adults, it does not have to be inevitable. To learn more about how Knute Nelson can help, contact them today.