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Seniors and loneliness

Have you noticed a senior in your life becoming increasingly isolated?  Sometimes it can be a hard topic to discuss, as people may be too proud to admit how they are really feeling.  However, the conversation is important as loneliness can have a major impact on a senior’s health and well-being. Isolation and loneliness are prime signs that an older adult is without the support and tools needed to live a healthy, independent life and may be in danger of spiraling into decline.

Consider these facts:

  • In 2011, among seniors aged 65 and over, women were nearly twice as likely to live alone (31.5%) compared to men (16.0%)
  • Among the age group 85 and over, 36.6% of women and 21.8% of men lived alone
  • A 2007/2009 Statistics Canada study showed that the life expectancy of women age 65 was another 21.6 years; for men age 65 it was 18.5

To be clear, being alone shouldn’t necessarily be confused with loneliness.  Many people enjoy being alone and live healthy, happy lives.

According to Aging in Canada’s focus group series, Seniors Speak out About Loneliness, “Being alone means just that, being alone. Usually, loneliness refers to being unhappy with the emotional and social relationships you do not have, or with the ones that you do have.  Loneliness is partly about numbers of friends or people in a person’s life, but it is also about whether or not you feel connected to people.”

Why do older adults experience loneliness?

Older adults may find themselves without personal contact for a number of reasons.  Sometimes it is due to a lack of a social network of family and friends; other times seniors may isolate themselves because of health conditions, depression or mental illness.  Being afraid of falling, fatigue, chronic pain or shame over memory problems are also factors.  The fear of driving or the loss of one’s driver’s license can keep older adults from venturing out and many seniors avoid public transportation for the reasons listed above.

There is good reason to be worried about a senior that you believe to be lonely and isolated.  After all, research shows that loneliness contributes to a variety of health concerns, such as speeding up the onset of dementia.  In addition, studies have proven a link between loneliness and fatal heart disease. Sadly, in some cases, it can also contribute to death.

What can you do to help a senior who is lonely?

Be a Friend.  Firstly, call and check in regularly to make sure that the senior you care about is doing OK. Try to be patient and encourage her to share her feelings. Besides, your call could be the only friendly contact she has all week.

Offer to drive. Getting around may be difficult so you could offer to pick her up and take her to do something she enjoys such as a stroll around the mall, attend a program for seniors, or simply a meal out together.

Arrange for Services.  Difficulty bathing or taking care of oneself can have a major impact on self-esteem and can keep someone from wanting to make new friends. Contact your local Community Care Access Centre for information.  Are they feeling depressed?  Arrange for a doctor’s visit so they may refer them to a counselor.

Consider a retirement community.  At Seasons, we have seen many people’s health improve from having regular, interesting and engaging social activities available in their new home, every day.

Some residents tell us they met their best friend at a Seasons Community.  Our Best Friends Forever Contest gave our residents a chance to celebrate the friendships that mean the most to them.  Check out our video.  It reminds us how truly powerful friendship and social connections are to all of us.

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