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Combating Loneliness in Seniors
The very essence of being human means we exist within a social structure where we interact with others. We spend time together, talking, laughing and sometimes crying. But there are times in life where interaction becomes minimal. Everyone experiences loneliness at one time or another, and these feelings usually do not last long.
However, loneliness sometimes takes on a different role in the lives of seniors. Lack of companionship can become a way of life that has a negative impact on the overall health of the elderly, whether the loneliness is caused by the loss of a loved one, distance from family and friends, or an inactive social circle. Studies show that loneliness in the elderly raises the potential for certain health risks, including depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
As seniors grow older, it is important to understand the hazards of becoming socially isolated and inactive. Lack of companionship, not having anyone to lean on for emotional support, can cause seniors to internalize negative feelings instead of dealing with issues head on. Internalizing these feelings compounds the sense of loneliness and isolation, which in turn increases the risk of the senior developing health problems.
There is good news. Because isolation has been identified as a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality in older adults, extensive research has been conducted to find ways to prevent it. There are strategies proven to help elevate moods and stave off feelings of isolation and loneliness. The following are a few ideas that can help seniors combat loneliness by seeking out and forming friendships.
Develop an active social circle. Activities such as taking on a part-time job or volunteering at a local organization offer opportunities to increase feelings of purpose and self-worth. Joining a garden club or a book club provides a way of making new friends.
Surf the Internet. There are many online sites and chat rooms designed for seniors to cultivate friendships and even dating relationships. Chatting with people online can be fun and is a good way to connect with others who have the same interests. Many seniors enjoy playing games online or even enrolling in classes and educational seminars to keep busy. If a senior has relatives or friends who live far away, emailing letters and pictures of each other, or chatting via webcam, also fosters a sense of connectedness that is important in maintaining a healthy outlook on life.
Get together. Having a small gathering inside the home boosts the mood of a lonely senior and provides a sense of focus. Play a board game. Gossip over coffee or dessert. Whatever the occasion, having company makes the senior feel less isolated and gives her or him something to look forward to.
Become a pet owner. Studies show that owning a pet can lower blood pressure. Dogs, cats and even fish are proven to have calming effects on their owners, and taking care of a pet is a responsibility that helps seniors feel needed. The daily routine of caring for a pet not only gives a senior something useful to do, but it also increases the attachment and affection between pet and owner, which results in a greater sense of companionship that decreases feelings of loneliness.
Dare to fall in love again—at any age. Encourage seniors to have a special someone. It lifts their moods, increases levels of happiness and provides a great sense of well-being. It is hard to feel lonely when one is in a healthy, loving relationship.
Humans are social creatures who interact to support and nurture one another. For seniors, seeking companionship—whether through a friend, loved one, or pet—gives them a sense of value and purpose that provides a sense of security and happiness. This value and purpose are vital to ensuring the senior derives enjoyment in his or her daily life activities and remains physically healthy.