How to Tackle Loneliness in Senior Citizens
Loneliness can cause damage to not only one’s mental health but also physical, which is why it’s important to make it a part of senior citizens’ health plan.
While the two are often overlooked, loneliness and social isolation are growing concerns in India, especially among senior citizens. There is also an important distinction between the two: Social isolation refers to the physical lack of social interactions, while loneliness is more emotional and subjective in nature, and refers to the feeling of being alone.
For most people, ageing also leads to a shrinking of one’s social circle, with one losing regular peer interaction in the workforce, etc. Socialising may become more difficult due to mobility issues or even health issues like hearing problems and speech impediments that cause difficulty in having conversations. In fact, the latter can be a great cause of frustration and push one to further retreat inside.
It’s not only this physical isolation that can be debilitating to one’s mental health; post-retirement, people can feel a loss of purpose and start to undermine their role in society. This feeling gets compounded when there is a lack of companionship or emotional support, loss of friends—and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated all this, cutting off contact with even family members. But simply being with other family members may not fulfil an individual’s social needs. And sometimes the primary caregiver is so invested in ensuring the daily functioning that it becomes tough to meet emotional requirements as well.
As humans in general tend to be social in nature, one can assume the negative impact loneliness and isolation can have on one’s well-being. In fact, studies have linked the two with acute health problems. As per a study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 2020, “social isolation and loneliness have been found to increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease and stroke independent of traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors.” The same study links the two with an increased risk of dementia, depression and other mental health issues. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2020, also holds that social isolation leads to an almost 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia.
Despite being so common, tackling loneliness and social isolation requires a multi-layered approach, and it’s important for both families and health practitioners to start taking them both into account.
Removing the stigma
For many senior citizens, and people in general, it can be embarrassing to admit feeling lonely, and that has a lot to do with societal judgement. Removing the stigma is something that requires action at a more widespread level, but a small step is simply acknowledging that the problem exists and that it can lead to health and cognitive issues. Within the health context, this can look like doctors screening for chronic loneliness during check-ups, and then proactively and non-judgmentally taking action. Making this identification a part of routine check-ups can help people become more open.
Meaningful social interaction
Finding the root cause of one’s loneliness is imperative: It could be because of the death of a loved one or health issues that are causing social setbacks. Whatever it is, only once that cause is identified can longlasting measures be taken. In tandem with finding this, research suggests that one way of navigating loneliness is by engaging in tasks that have a social impact or are meaningful in other ways—volunteer work is touted as a way for senior citizens to not only share their own vast knowledge, but to also give a sense of purpose. Meaningful social interaction will, of course, differ from individual to individual basis their personal interests and hobbies, which brings us to the next point.
Finding new hobbies
Life post retirement is supposed to be a time for an individual to focus on their own needs, but for some that can be both overwhelming and daunting. Family members can help by initiating the discussion to rediscover old passions and ways to nurture them now.
Building more connections
Most people assume that senior citizens will not use technology but with the resources available to learn, and people willing to teach, that belief doesn’t seem to hold true anymore—especially with the changes the pandemic has brought in, moving most people to virtual set-ups. Not only does this allow senior citizens to stay in touch with friends and family who are far away, but there are various online communities they can be a part of that share their own interests.
At Seva At Home, we produce a wealth of free health information to help elders live healthier, happier lives. This has been produced by independent research carried out by the Seva At Home team. This information is not a replacement for medical advice. Please consult your physician for relevant medical diagnosis and advice.
To learn more about our home care services in India, contact our caregiving team today at +1 (603) 718-4828 if you are based in North America, or at 1800-120-800-003 if you are based in India.