Loneliness might mean something different to everyone, but one thing has become clear: it doesn’t just mean living alone. In fact, recent studies show loneliness is linked to social isolation and an experience of not fitting in or belonging. So while some people can live alone and feel completely fulfilled, others can live with or around many people and still feel isolated – and this is especially true for seniors.
From age-related conditions that affect interaction and mobility to cultural or generational barriers that can result in intimidation or embarrassment, there are many factors that can lead to seniors feeling isolated. What’s worse, are the physical and emotional effects ranging from changes in appetite and sleep disturbances to self-loathing and cognitive decline.
Loneliness Affects Health
A study conducted by researchers at Florida State University looked at 12,030 people over the course of 10 years. They gave participants, all ages 50+, a cognitive test at the start of the study, and then every two years for up to 10 years after. They also recorded data on self-reported levels of loneliness and isolation. After 10 years, 1,104 of the participants were diagnosed with dementia.
Another study conducted by the Association for Psychological Science indicated a 26-45 percent increase in the risk of death, which is on par with other risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity. And the Journal of Primary Prevention published a study indicating that isolation leads to numerous detrimental effects, including an increased number of falls, hospitalization, and dementia, with the prevalence of isolation among seniors who live at home sitting at 43 percent.
But there is hope. And a way to help.
Activity Increases Vitality
Book clubs. Knitting. Exercise classes. Volunteer opportunities. Offering (and encouraging) the development of new friendships, skills, and interests through activity is a great way to provide seniors with a sense of purpose, helping to minimize their stress while maximizing their well-being.
Connect with Technology
In today’s world of video calls, instant messaging, and streaming, it’s easier than ever to stay connected with who - and what - matters most. Access to smart devices opens up a world of communication and new information that can help seniors feel closer to the times, their family, and the world around them.
Benefits of Congregate Dining
Socialization is critical for seniors at every stage and mealtime can be the best (and easiest) time to be engaged. So whether it’s a regular lunch hour or a special occasion, supporting congregate dining with nutritious meals helps to foster meaningful moments and relationships that older adults need to remain healthy – and happy.
Activities and amenities aside, one of the most important things we can offer is support. From a listening ear to a friendly hug, little acts of kindness are a simple way to let seniors know they are noticed, heard, appreciated and cared about. And that can mean the world to someone experiencing feelings of isolation.
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in research on the impact of loneliness on seniors’ health. While the results are troubling, sharing this type of information takes us one step closer to facing and fixing the problem. We hope that by continuing this conversation, along with the support and reauthorization of the OAA (Older Americans Act) in 2019, we can pave the way to a solution and, ultimately, a better future for seniors everywhere.