Loneliness is associated with negative feelings or sadness. It is a deeply personal experience, which can be long-term or experienced temporarily following a significant life event such as the loss of a loved one. Loneliness can affect anyone at any age, but older people are particularly vulnerable to feeling lonely due to a number of risk-factors. These risk factors include: living alone, losing loved ones, and health problems which can make it harder to get out and about. Below is more information about the causes, signs, impact of loneliness in seniors, as well as some ways to help combat loneliness.
Main Causes of Loneliness
There are key transitions, which tend to occur in older age, that can trigger loneliness including:
- Poor health: Poor health, functional status, vision, as well as hearing loss can restrict mobility and make it more difficult to socialize, reducing opportunities for social contact and potentially leading to feelings of loneliness.
- Major Life Events: Major life events such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, money worries, retirement, etc. can all increase the risk of loneliness in older people.
- Lack of social networks: As people grow older, their social networks often get smaller due to lack of contact with friends and family, children moving away, and limited opportunities to participate in social events.
- Location: Some older people may be living far away from their loved ones. In modern times, families live further apart due family/work commitments or family break ups, and this increases the risk of loneliness.
Six Signs of Loneliness
It is not always easy to identify the signs of loneliness It is important to remember someone can still feel lonely despite being in frequent contact with friends and family. Identifying the signs early means that the person affected gets the help and support they need as early as possible. Some of the signs of loneliness include::
- Verbal clues such as someone saying that they are feeling lonely or mentioning that they rarely have anyone to talk to. They may also complain about feeling worthless.
- Significant change in daily routines such as getting up a lot later.
- Neglecting appearance or personal hygiene.
- Not eating properly.
- Befriending unlikely people through phone calls, mail, online or even strangers visiting them at home.
- Change in personal circumstances such as losing a loved one, moving away from friends and family, children moving out, retirement, or experiencing health problems that make it difficult for older adults to go out and do the things they enjoy.
The Impact of Loneliness
Loneliness reduces quality of life in older people. It is associated with adverse health problems such as:
- Mental health distress
- Cognitive decline
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep problems
- Lack of confidence
- Increased risk of falls
- Impaired cognitive health
- Higher blood pressure
Loneliness can have a big impact on mental and physical health. It is therefore important to tackle loneliness head on in order to improve quality of life. Here are some tips for helping your loved one combat loneliness.
Research group services: Finding local social groups or club that organize regular local social activities and outings can help ease loneliness in older adults.
Set goals: No matter how small, goals can give a person a sense of achievement and motivation. The goal could be anything from finishing a crossword puzzle, to doing some gardening. Planning days out or activities will give a person something to look forward to.
Get online: Getting online opens up a whole new world. It can provide a way to stay in touch with family and friends that live far away, makes it possible to make new friends and meet up with old friends on social media. The internet is also a good way of researching local groups, events, and clubs that might be of interest.
Listen: Simply being there and encouraging your loved one to express themselves by listening can be a great comfort to someone who is feeling lonely, and can help trigger a memory or discover a person’s interests and passions that are just waiting to be reawakened. Rediscovering a person’s passion or interest- for example finding out what the person loves doing and doing it with the person if possible- can help develop a personalized loneliness eradication plan.
Reach Out: A lonely person will appreciate knowing that someone is thinking about them. Reaching out to your loved one with something as simple as a few minute phone call to say hello a couple of times a week, a short letter, a card, or visiting more often, can go a long way to make a senior feel loved and connected to the rest of the outside world.
Be patient: When people are lonely, they need patience and gentle assurance, especially if the loneliness is connected with poor mental or physical health, they may get irritable or feel misunderstood by others.
Having a clear understanding of the causes, signs, impact and the different ways of tackling loneliness among the elderly is very important in improving their quality of life.