Combating Loneliness in Older Adults
By Joe Fleming
Are you feeling lonely or socially isolated? Turns out, you’re not alone. In a 2018 survey conducted on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association, nearly one-third of adults polled reported experiencing loneliness at least once a week.
Did you know that loneliness can contribute to poor health as you age? As the National Institute on Aging shares, social isolation serves as a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality and can increase chances for developing everything from high blood pressure to depression and chronic pain.
Tips for Older Adults
For adults over 65 who want to bid loneliness goodbye and improve their overall wellbeing, check out these essential ideas:
- Find an exercise partner. Research has shown that exercising with a partner can not only provide more motivation and accountability to help you keep up with your fitness, but it can also facilitate increased social engagement and even compel you to workout harder than you might have on your own. Exercise buddies also serve as a source of support and encouragement, which can be critical especially if you have specific weight loss or strength training goals.
- Look outside of digital connections. While social media outlets can serve as a platform for digitally connecting with people, they can also be a source of anxiety and social pressure. People naturally share their best, most exciting selves on platforms like Facebook, which may lead you to feel inadequate and even lonelier. Look for tangible connections outside of social media, within your own community, faith group and family.
- Shop local. Buying local goods and services automatically helps you form a strong tie with the community where you live and the people that make it thrive. Whether you’re visiting a local bakery each week, attending the Farmer’s Market, supporting a local theatre, or even going to a local gym, you’ll quickly become acquainted with the vendors and people who work there, as well as other patrons.
- Volunteer. Helping out your community not only provides a sense of purpose but engages you with like-minded individuals in a shared experience. Older adults can look for volunteer opportunities near where they live with free search services from CreatetheGood.org and VolunteerMatch.org. Some volunteer ideas may include helping out at a local adult daycare program for those with Alzheimer’s, pitching in at the local food bank, signing up to volunteer for a local election or lending a hand at the animal shelter.
- Discover a hobby. Pursuing your creative interests is a great way to add meaning to your day, as well as meet new people. Join a local knitting group, sign up for a photography class, start a Bridge group with friends or neighbors, the ideas are endless. Hobbies also play an important role in keeping the mind sharp as you age. Check out what your local library or senior center has in the way of programming and visit Meetup.com to search for existing groups near you based on your interests.
- Try live video-chatting. If distance separates you from your family or dearest friends, consider using free video-chatting services to connect with them. Even better than a phone call, a video chat allows you to see and talk with your loved ones, oftentimes making it easier to both understand and hear them. You can use Facetime on an iPhone or Skype on your computer (with a webcam) or iPhone to make free video calls over Wifi.
Tips for Caregivers
If you help care for an aging parent and are concerned about their social isolation, these additional tips may help:
- Keep up with doctor’s appoints - keeping up with doctor’s appointments can help you and your loved one stay on top of potential health issues that could increase the risk for social isolation like hearing problems, mobility issues, depression and chronic pain. For example, if back pain is preventing your older adult from going to their regular exercise class, their doctor may be able to recommend an orthopedic aid to help that relieves pain and empowers them to exercise more.
- Address incontinence issues - incontinence problems are often a source of increased stress and anxiety that prevents older adults from leaving the house for extended periods of time. While not the easiest subject to broach, addressing these problems can help your older adult feel confident and more willing to get out and maintain social engagements with others.
- Help with transportation - if you’re aging parent can no longer drive, helping them coordinate transportation will be one of the most important ways to stave off loneliness. You don’t always have to drive them around either. Look for volunteer-powered senior drive programs in your area, teach them how to use ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber, or ask about senior shuttles to and from common destinations like the grocery store and pharmacy.