One of the Most Serious Senior Health Issues is Loneliness

While many of us tend to associate the holidays with togetherness, joyful occasions and feelings of warmth and happiness, the season can also represent feelings of loneliness and isolation for some people – especially seniors. Loneliness is not only unhealthy for older adults’ mental health, it can affect their physical wellbeing as well. According to Wikipedia, “Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation. Loneliness is also described as social pain—a psychological mechanism which motivates individuals to seek social connections. It is often associated with an unwanted lack of connection and intimacy.” Research shows us that isolation and loneliness in seniors can lead to debilitating depression, high blood pressure, dementia and shorter life spans. Conversely, multiple studies show that seniors who are feeling connected and happy are healthier and often can lead to a longer lifespan. What’s more, happiness is contagious. In fact, one study by researchers at the University of California and Harvard University found surrounding yourself with happy people can make you more likely to become happy yourself. The holidays can present families with an opportunity to spot signs of loneliness in their older family members and take steps to do something about it. 

Signs that a senior is feeling lonely or isolated include:
Your loved one has suffered a loss, either the death of a spouse or friend, or relocation of a long-time companion.They give verbal cues, such as complaining they have no friends, feel confined to their home, have no one to talk to or severely miss a long-deceased companion.They exhibit signs of depression, including trouble falling asleep, irritability, loss of appetite and disinterest in activities that used to excite them. Their eating habits have changed. Seniors who are feeling isolated and depressed may lose their appetite or engage in unhealthful comfort eating.Personality or behavioral changes are evident. Your normally stoic loved one has become tearful, a chatty person becomes quiet, or an out-going personality is now withdrawn. They become “clingy,” holding a handshake or hug longer than normal, and becoming upset when it’s time for a visit to end. They complain of pain or health issues that the doctor can’t explain. In some cases, the “illness” may be an attempt to get attention. In other cases, it can be a physical response to loneliness. A person who was once very capable may begin to have difficulty managing daily tasks or their finances.

Tips to help seniors combat loneliness:
Exercise (of any kind). Physical exercise increases the body’s level of “feel good” hormones and can contribute to improved sleep, as well as fewer body aches and pains. Family members can get seniors out of a walk, play card games that include movement, such as Charades or music games.  
Provide laughter. Sit down with a elderly member and watch a funny movie or TV show together. Laughter’s positive effects on the mind and body are well documented. Laughing together improves mood and can make people feel more socially attached. Connect. Make connections with others through technology; Skype,  Facetime and other apps can help bring loved ones closer from afar. 
Music. Ask what holiday music they used to listen to when they were younger and play a sing-a-long or two. Lastly…
Helping others brings great JOY to us all. Volunteering has many positive side effects on our physical mental health. When you volunteer your time to help others, you’ll feel good about your own actions.

A Physician once said, “The best medicine for humans is love.”

Someone asked, “What if it doesn’t work?”

He smiled and said, “Increase the dose.”