Fighting Senior Loneliness

Fighting Senior Loneliness
By Kim Williams, Manager of Transportation & Companionship
and Care Manager Assistant

When we think of risk factors that contribute to poor health and disease, most of us think of factors such as obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and genetics. However, science is showing that another major risk factor that contributes to poor health is loneliness.

Studies show that loneliness raises the risk of death by 14 percent, increases the likelihood that a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease, weakens the immune system, raises blood pressure, leads to sleep problems, and even causes changes on the genetic level (Source: People Need People, by IlluminAge.com). Further, during the past decade, numerous experts have shown that the human drive to spend time in the company of others is just as strong as hunger and thirst (Source: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/understanding-loneliness-through-science.html).

Seniors are particularly susceptible to loneliness due to losses and changes that are more likely to affect this age group; loss of a spouse and/or elderly friends, children moving away, retirement, transportation limitations, health challenges, and a sense of feeling left behind in today’s digital age are just some of the factors that can contribute to senior loneliness.

But it’s not all bad news! There are many strategies and resources that can help decrease senior loneliness. Here are some ways seniors can overcome loneliness:

  • Participating in community activities – there are many group activities available to seniors. Senior centers host a variety of programs to pique seniors’ varied interests and abilities. Volunteering may be another avenue to explore.Volunteer Match can be one avenue for finding a volunteering job. And, educational programs for seniors such as OASIS can help connect seniors with others and enrich their lives.
  • Exploring alternatives to driving – one may ask, how can one engage in community activities if driving oneself is not an option? Finding transportation can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Senior centers often have vans to transport participants to their centers.  There are organizations, both private pay and non-profit that can provide transportation specifically for seniors. The Silver Runner provides private pay transportation, outings, and companion services.  Your local Department of Senior Affairs can also make recommendations. Professional in-home caregivers can also help clients get out and about. And remember, it’s okay to ask friends, family, or volunteers from your religious congregation for a ride.
  • For seniors with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, connect with specialized programs – your local Alzheimer’s Association can be put you in touch with various activities tailored for those with dementia. Studies show that even if a person with dementia is unable to remember a visit, the emotional benefit is lasting (Source:People Need People, by IlluminAge.com). Sometimes as the disease progresses, a move to a memory care facility might be the best choice.
  • Considering Retirement Community/Assisted Living  – a move out of one’s home can be extremely difficult, but retirement communities can help seniors from becoming socially isolated. At retirement and assisted living communities, meals are enjoyed together, staff engages with residents, and there are many fun daily activities, including exercise programs for seniors.
  • Considering Home Care/Companionship Services – if moving is not a good option, having a companion come to one’s home regularly can increase social interaction and provide a source of transportation to activities.
  • Activities for those who are more shy and introverted– some of us are social butterflies while others prefer more alone time. Studies show, however, that even people who enjoy solitude and don’t perceive themselves as lonely still benefit by spending time in the presence of others. (Source: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/understanding-loneliness-through-science.html). Activities that don’t require one to socialize heavily, but focus on providing the participants with a focused activity can be more comfortable.  If a more introverted person doesn’t like to go out, they might consider inviting visitors to their home or apartment.
  • Exploring if depression is contributing to loneliness – some of the above activities may sound good in theory, but what if depression makes it difficult for one to get out? An estimated 20 percent of seniors experience depression (Source: http://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/mental_health.pdf). It is certainly not uncommon and nothing to be ashamed about. Talk with your doctor if you or a loved one feels depressed.  Socialization can be a helpful piece of a treatment plan that may include counseling and medication. Consider a support group for both companionship and practical help.
  • Joining the online crowd – some seniors feel left behind when so many people communicate online. Maybe it’s time to join the crowd! Studies show Internet use reduces depression and isolation in older adults. (Source:http://psychsocgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/03/25/geronb.gbu018.full). Email, Facebook and Skype can be nice tools for connecting with friends and family and re-establishing connections with friends from one’s past. If using new technology seems intimidating, look into computer classes at the local senior center or ask a young relative to give you some lessons.

If you would like more assistance in overcoming senior lonelinessGeriatric Care Management can help! Please call us at 897-3009. If transportation is a barrier to overcoming isolation, or if you’d like a companion to enjoy your favorite activities with, consider using The Silver Runner Transportation, Errand, and Companionship Servicesat 872-0451. Silver Runner also offers assistance in setting up and using technology!

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