For many people, this time of the year means family get-togethers, holiday shopping sprees, gift-giving and holiday merriment.
But for many seniors, the same season that elicits feelings of peace and joy in some can bring about a sense of loneliness and isolation in others.
According to the AARP’s 2010 Survey on Loneliness, more than half of seniors who had been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders said they felt lonely. In fact, 43 percent of older loved ones reported feeling lonely on a regular basis. Loneliness is a subjective feeling of disconnection on a social and emotional level. Contrary to what some believe, a person could be in a relationship or among friends, and still feel very much alone.
Loneliness is an ongoing problem particularly among seniors, and in addition to the emotional toll it takes on a person, the physical and psychological effects can also be quite debilitating.
Some of the effects of loneliness include:
Depression – the lack of connectedness with others highlights a deficiency of relationships. This cognitive awareness causes feelings of sadness or emptiness. Soon distance and isolation begin to affect emotional well-being, eventually leading to depression.
Decrease in Social Functioning – loneliness may cause people to put up walls or react defensively to others, making it more difficult to cultivate new relationships. Fear of rejection might also cause a person to avoid situations where they might feel let down.
Decline in Physical Health – besides depression, loneliness can have negative effects on the cardiovascular and immune systems. It’s also been known to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Increased Mortality – research shows that loneliness and isolation have a greater impact on mortality than obesity or a sedentary lifestyle.
It may be difficult for your older loved one to express exactly how they feel, but once you identify the signs, there are ways you can help.
How can you help in the fight against loneliness? Freedom Home Care lists several ways you can take action below.
- Communication is one of the most effective ways to keep help your loved one combat loneliness. If your senior opens up to you, offer them a positive, non-partial place to be heard. If you can’t be present with them, a phone call, email or video chat is the next best thing to stay connected.
- What does your senior like to do for fun? Maybe they prefer a good movie or likes to play golf. Find out which activities interest them and schedule some time when you can both participate.
- Clubs, senior centers, and church groups offer specific events that cater to your loved one’s likes and needs. Encourage them to get involved. This is a great way to meet other like-minded people while building friendships.
- Family gatherings are one of the best ways to get your older loved to join in on the festivities. Ask them to share a favorite recipe for the great holiday meal. Knowing they can make a positive contribution during the Christmas season could make all the difference.
- Consider enlisting the help of a home care agency. This way, there’s a compassionate person caring for your loved one in their times of need.