Isolation and Loneliness in the Elderly

Loneliness has the potential to strike anyone, regardless of age. The elderly, however, are at particular risk for suffering from it since they are also at risk of being more isolated due to health issues or lessened mobility that comes with age. However, even though communication in this day and age is easier than it’s ever been before, statistics and research show that we are lonelier now than ever. The elderly population is particularly at risk to suffer from it. Let’s look at why.

  • 18% of seniors live alone, while 43% have reported leaving alone on a regular basis, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
  • Those seniors who are lonely are much likelier to both decline and die more quickly. The study mentioned above also showed that those individuals who were 60 and over and reported feeling lonely also saw an increased risk of death of 45%. Those isolated people also had a 59% greater risk of both mental and physical decline than those who were more sociable.
  • 1 in 7 people suffering from Alzheimer’s live alone, according to a new report done by the Alzheimer’s Association.
  • Loneliness is, in fact, contagious. Those older adults who feel lonely themselves are more prone to behaviors that might cause others to not want to be around them.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise: two-thirds of those who reported feeling lonely were either married or living with a partner.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the ways you can help to alleviate those feelings of loneliness in your loved one(s):

  • Listen and Observe: If we encourage a person to express themselves, that can help you to discover what they’re passionate about or interested in. All too often, we don’t take time out to listen to those around us, but if we do, we have the potential to not only lessen the effects and feelings of loneliness, but to learn something that we might not have known otherwise.
  • Develop a Strategy to Defeat Seclusion: Once you’ve found out what your loved one is passionate about or interested in, you can use this to help develop a plan to get rid of the loneliness in their lives. Whether their interests lie in cooking, gardening, or anything in between, use them to come up with different, creative ways to help fill that void in their lives.
  • Let Them Teach You: Be sure to remain open to receiving the knowledge an elder has acquired over the years. By being open and willing to learning new things, it not only creates a great chance for bonding with your loved one, but it can also help to restore some of that parent/child balance that might have been thrown out of whack when you began caring for them.
  • Bridge the Generation Gap: As a caregiver, you have the opportunity to help the younger generations get connected to the older ones. Just because they are older does not mean that seniors have no more to give or contribute to their families, especially if they are not cut off and isolated. Try to come up with some ways for both the older and younger generations to spend time together. It’s been shown that this can be especially important, since an elder who remain unengaged with family experiences a faster cognitive decline than one who has a lot of social interaction.
  • It’s the Thought that Counts: Make sure to ask other family members or friends to reach out to an elderly loved one. It doesn’t have to be some spectacular gesture, since even the small things often mean so much more, and can go a long way to making someone who has been feeling disconnected from the world around them like they are part of something again.