Elderly loneliness is a major health concern, threatening feelings of unworthiness and leading to depression, reduced mobility, and other symptoms. While isolation and lack of companionship are the major causes of loneliness, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can trigger negative feelings as well. In this post, we discuss elderly loneliness, isolation and how to address it.
Understanding Elderly Loneliness
Loneliness by definition is an unpleasant or negative emotion as a result of isolation, lack of companionship, or connectedness. Besides apathy, most seniors develop anxiety, agitation, frustration, and sometimes Sundowners Syndrome.
Even for those in assisted living communities, loneliness can still be a factor. While care providers can provide many of life's essentials, they may not have the time or attention to provide a human connection.
Main Cause of Elderly Loneliness
If your family has a history of loneliness and depression, chances are you may also develop loneliness at some point. Other causes of elderly loneliness include:
Death is a life-changing experience for anyone, but it can be extremely devastating for seniors. Moreover, most of them go through a period of isolation, which if not addressed early can lead to loneliness and lack of independence.
If a senior loses a partner, ensure they are safe and consider finding an alternative living arrangement where they will have company.
The effects of retirement will differ from senior to senior depending on the reason for retiring--some seniors retire voluntarily while others are forced due to job loss or health conditions. Retirement can be hard and devastating, but appropriate preparation can help prevent negative feelings associated with job loss and reduced income.
Whether relocating because of a change in marital status, occupation, or other financial reasons, a change of scenery can be difficult for seniors. Seniors who relocate develop a sense of loneliness because of the burden of starting life fresh.
To avoid the stress of relocation, make sure the senior becomes acquainted with the new location in advance. Explore the neighborhood to discover different amenities they may enjoy.
As health declines, it becomes more difficult for seniors to enjoy the freedom to stay in touch with loved ones. While a qualified medical team can keep symptoms at bay, it may leave little time to enjoy life's pleasures.
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Whether managing a chronic illness, disability, or loneliness, a wireless pager can be a helpful tool to stay in touch with those around you. Connect up to ten wireless devices to keep caregivers in touch no matter where they are.
Signs of Elderly Loneliness
Loneliness doesn’t develop overnight, it creeps up over a duration of time as feelings of isolation increase. There are, however, early symptoms of loneliness to look out for, to help you provide support as early as possible.
Sleep patterns change with age, but though sleepless nights due to depression can lead to serious health problems. Make sure to consult a physician if you notice irregular sleeping patterns.
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Changes in Appetite and Diet
Our appetite and diet change with age. However, loneliness and immobility can further affect your desire to eat and trigger unhealthy eating.
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Seek the services of a registered dietitian--one who works with seniors to help you plan the meals. Additionally, you can buy them a mobility scooter especially if the problem is mobility.
Reluctance to Participate in Social Events
When a senior is isolated for an extended period, they may be reluctant to engage in social events. Failure to attend social gatherings can exacerbate the feeling of isolation.
Possible Consequences of Loneliness
Besides feeling unworthy and miserable, loneliness can cause severe problems like alcoholism, malnutrition, and depression.
Depression can be triggered by the death of a partner or loss of independence. Some of the signs of depression include irritability, restlessness, overeating and or loss of appetite, fatigue, and loss of interest in things once pleasurable.
Lonely seniors may turn to alcohol to escape feelings of isolation and loneliness or to cope with grief. With advanced age, high alcohol intake should be avoided, as it can lead to serious health conditions.
Depression and ill health can cause loss of appetite. Reduced mobility can also affect their diet due to the inability to cook or go to the grocery store.
How to Cope With Loneliness
While loneliness can be experienced even when surrounded by caregivers, sometimes the best solution involves finding the right environment or companion. See how these tips might help.
Change Living Arrangements
Living alone is a trigger for loneliness, so consider changing living quarters to better accommodate your social needs. Different options are available, like moving in with the family, going to a nursing home, or trying senior care centers.
A senior will appreciate knowing you are thinking about them. Try organizing get-togethers often to connect and keep the family together. With regular contact, your loved one will not feel lonely or isolated. Regular family vacations can also enhance family relations.
Pets like cats and dogs provide great companions for a senior, and they reduce stress. But, remember puppies and kittens require a lot of care and attention, so ensure your loved one can take care of a pet.
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A walk or a trip to the mall can have a great psychological impact and improve mood. Luckily, there are several walking aids that you can use including folding walkers that are versatile and can be used on different terrains .
It’s never too late to start or seek out new friends. Joining a local club, group, volunteering, and attending social events is a great way of meeting new people. Several charities also hold regular afternoon tea for seniors. Consider joining a book club, cooking classes, Zumba, yoga or pilates--the options are limitless, but be sure to choose an activity that is within your ability.
Several activities for seniors like road trips, nature walks, new hobbies, learning a new skill, golfing, or joining a Tai Chi group can help improve your mood. It is also vital to join an accountability group that will keep you motivated and engaged.
Recovery from Elderly Loneliness
To recover from loneliness, you have to realize that loneliness is a feeling and not a reality. Accept the feelings associated with a lack of companionship. Additionally, reach out to your family and friends to stay connected with the people who matter most to you. Pay attention to your self-defeating thoughts and make a plan to fight emotional loneliness.
How to Prevent Loneliness
Elderly loneliness may not be treatable like a regular disease, but it can affect your mental and physical health. Preventing isolation and negative feelings of abandonment is possible and here are a few tips:
- Make prior plans before you retire like where you will live, the source of income, and how to maintain your health.
- Recognize and accept that your children will one day move out and be psychologically prepared.
- Focus on developing quality relationships with other people who share the same attitude, interests, and hobbies.
- Enroll in other senior activities early in advance to meet and connect with other people.
Working Together to Overcome Elderly Loneliness
Combating loneliness is about preventing emotional distress and exclusion. If you notice your relative is isolating themselves, it could be a sign of loneliness or even depression. Make a point of visiting them often, regularly call to encourage them, or try any of the above tips.