Seniors living in the Flintridge area and elsewhere usually receive plenty of advice on ways to lower their risks of injury from falling or other common household accidents, such as getting equipped with a monitoring device or receiving 24-hour care.
Unfortunately, there’s another condition that isn’t discussed as often but actually can be as damaging, but in a different sort of way: that condition is called loneliness, and it’s something the team at Accredited Home Care tries to do its best to fight, whether it’s giving strategies to clients and their loved ones or encouraging all of our staff to take time to socially interact when they’re visiting for various therapies and procedures. These scheduled visits may mean the world to some clients who may not have a lot of social connections anymore.
Loneliness can take many different forms and can have all sorts of root causes.
Sometimes it can be caused by internal factors, such as someone becoming less confident and more frightened about going out of their home as they age, especially behind the wheel.
Sometimes it can be caused by external forces, such as losing friends, family members or other loved ones, either by death or relocation.
Health conditions may further aggravate these types of situations: someone who may have mobility problems may be less likely to want to go outside very far or very long. Someone feeling depressed may also not have the energy or enthusiasm to go out to do things and meet new people. Their location or resources for seniors in their community also might make getting around difficult.
So it’s not hard for general feelings of loneliness to grow into something more painful and acute: actual isolation.
A study by the AARP and University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy found that as many as 1 in 4 older adults feel isolated, and 1 in 3 lack regular companionship. People who feel alone also may have poorer diets, poor health, and more substance use and abuse. Likewise, those who felt less lonely had companions around them, ate better and felt better.
Research into the negative effects of loneliness goes beyond this.
While some people may think of loneliness as purely a social problem, it’s something that can affect other areas of life.
Chronic loneliness is reported to stress the brain and body. It is connected to increased inflammation, reduced immune system, and higher blood pressure. The stress from loneliness can lead to an increase in the release of hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol, which normally occur in threatening or high-stress moments.
Another loneliness study showed that long periods of loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease, dementia, suicide and early death.
How to help
So with all these risks of loneliness, what can be done to help people feel less lonely? Plenty, actually.
Although there are some complex and less practical options like relocating to a retirement community or at least moving in with family, this isn’t always the most ideal option since few people like giving up their independence or going through the process of moving.
Instead, it might be easier on you and others to come up some alternative strategies to keep loneliness at bay:
- Master social media. Don’t worry about not knowing details about some of the newer platforms and channels that your kids or grandkids are always talking about. Sites like Facebook and Instagram can provide opportunities to see the adventures of your family and friends. It can also be a chance to post your own content and have others interact with your activities.
- Consider a pet. Although caring for a pet does come with responsibilities, like providing food, drink, and exercise, it might be an opportunity to have someone to take care of in the house. Pets that are more passive may not want or need much attention, such as fish. But larger animals like cats or dogs may be enjoyable. A dog, for instance, can encourage a homeowner to take walks more often and more regularly.
- Bring in a roommate. If you’re by yourself in a large home, consider inviting people from your community or creativity to be part of the fun. Depending on how much or what kind of privileges can offered, (chores, costs, cookies, etc.), a compatible roommate could help provide more companionship.
- Encourage motion and movement. Getting out and exercising, even a walk around the block can help muscles stay active and provide useful endorphins, a compound known for pain and stress relief. Other low-impact activities which could be satisfying include yoga or tai chi. Even if someone can’t go far for these activities, he or she can do some of them from home.
Overall, it’s fun to consider creative approaches to finding opportunities for more stimulation and avoid situations that can cause loneliness.