Loneliness is a common problem experienced by older adults – but it’s a concerning one. Social isolation in older adults can stem from a wide variety of causes, but the problems caused by social isolation are often the same – and can be debilitating. Even though it might get harder as you get older, staying socially connected can help seniors both improve and extend their lives. Here’s how.
Why older people often struggle with loneliness
Social isolation in older people can come from the major events and lifestyle changes that often accompany ageing. It can sometimes be difficult to maintain your connection with others as you get older, for a number of reasons:
- Death of a spouse can cause intense loneliness
- Retiring from works means an immediate reduction in the number of people seen on a daily basis
- The increasing health and/or mobility problems that often accompany ageing may make it more difficult to get out and about
- Financial problems can also sometimes make participating in activities an issue
- Adult children have often moved away
- Your friendship circle may be reducing as former friends deal with health issues or move away from the area to retire
- Divorce or relationship breakdown may decrease your circle of connections
Isolation and loneliness can be devastating for the health of older adults
Loneliness doesn’t just cause feelings of unhappiness and low self-esteem, but has far greater reaching negative effects that impact on many aspects of physical health and wellbeing as well.
Loneliness can lead to:
- Immune system suppression
- Compromised health, particularly in high-risk people
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Decreased confidence and self-esteem
- Psychological or emotional distress
- Higher rates of cancer and inflammation have also been linked to loneliness
Studies repeatedly show that older people are both mentally and physically healthier when they foster relationships with others and maintain strong social connections. In fact, older people with strong social connections tend to feel happier and more supported, as well as being more active.
As well, older adults tend to feel more satisfied by having a sense of purpose and being able to offer something to other people. Being involved in the community can contribute hugely to seniors’ feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Spending time with others can drastically improve longevity and the quality of life for seniors, by helping them avoid health problems and extending their life.
How older people can foster social connection
That’s all very well and good, but easier said than done, you might think. However, there are many ways to foster social connections that you probably haven’t considered.
Suggestions for connecting in person
Nothing quite beats the ability to relate to people face-to-face. While it’s great to have visits with family and friends, these may be somewhat irregular, and you can’t always rely on these happening. Here are some other ways of connecting you can try:
- Join a social group or take part in one of the many and varied activities around. This can help lesson feelings of isolation and loneliness very quickly. You’ll be able to meet new people and make new friends as you participate in an activity of interest.
- Become a volunteer grandparent. Intergenerational connections can be very powerful and meaningful, for both the older and the younger person involved. Click here to read more about the importance of intergenerational connections.
- Learn something new at the University of the Third Age or an adult education class. You might even be able to learn how to use technology so that you can interact with family and friends this way.
Suggestions for virtual connection
As you age, you may find yourself with fewer opportunities in day-to-day life to meet and interact with others in person. While face-to-face is a great way to interact with people, it’s not always possible (especially at the moment).
However, there are many other ways you can stay connected with people rather than meeting them face-to-face. COVID-19 has taught us many things and new ways of connecting, and seniors can embrace the new forms of communication they’ve been forced to learn, such as Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger or FaceTime.
Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Have a virtual meal with family or friends, where you gather over a video conferencing service to enjoy a meal together (yet separately).
- Many churches and religious organisations are now offering online services, so you can attend these every week. You might also be able to attend smaller, and more personal religious studies groups offered by the religious organisation.
- Play a game online. Classic games such as Monopoly and Scrabble can now be played online with other people. There are also many websites offering trivia, card games and various other fun activities that you can do with family or friends.
- Read your grandchildren a bedtime story online.
- Reconnect with old friends via social networks such as Facebook.
- Find people with similar interests using online forums.
- Attend a virtual exercise class.
- Try a virtual book club.
For some more ideas on connecting with people virtually, have a read of this useful article.
Other ideas to facilitate connection
- COVID-19 has revived interest in letter writing, so take the chance to write letters to family or friends. Everyone loves to receive a letter in the mail, and you can also include photographs, stories, mementos or items of history that will interest your recipient.
- Have a plan – make a list of friends and family to interact with, when and how you will contact them. If you’re feeling lonely, try reaching out to other people, rather than waiting for people to contact you. Other people may be feeling just as lonely as you are and will probably be thrilled to hear from you.
- If you’ve reached the age of receiving the pension, you may be entitled to discounts for entry to various events – so make sure you check. Going out with people can be expensive but being able to save a bit of money may make getting out a little more possible.
- Adopt a pet if possible. Even if you’re living in care or a retirement village, many aged care and retirement facilities are willing to accommodate pets under certain conditions.
Aged care and retirement villages
Moving into an aged care facility or retirement village means instant access to a wide range of potential social connections who are right there on site. Living in aged care can help seniors reduce isolation and loneliness, as you’ll have people to socialise with every day. And while you probably won’t have the same level of social connection in a retirement community, the potential is there to make great friends who live in close proximity to you. Contact Finley Regional Care to find out more.
The key to a long, happy and healthy life lies in strong and meaningful relationships. Getting older does not automatically mean a reduction in social connections – but sometimes it might take a little more effort than before to stay connected. But the benefits you’ll gain from strong social connections are well worth the effort required in maintaining them.