There is absolutely no need for older people to fall prey to loneliness. Despite all of the cliches, we’re just as capable of leading vibrant, active social lives as anyone else! However, it is a sad truth that many people do experience a certain decline in their social calendar after retirement – and this can lead to a perilous state of loneliness. We all know that loneliness is not particularly pleasant – but it turns out that it’s a whole lot worse for us than many of us realize…
Why Do Seniors Get Lonely?
Contrary to what some people might think, seniors aren’t typically lonely because they’re too ‘frail’ or ‘grumpy’ to socialize. Most senior loneliness stems from circumstances which are beyond their control. During our youths, we typically spend our days working in people-packed environments, or with families. Retirement, children leaving, and bereavement mean that older people tend to get far fewer social encounters on a daily basis than they used to. We all grow accustomed to getting the majority of our social encounters in the course of our workaday lives.
While we may make extra efforts to see friends and so forth, we rarely realize just how much things like smiling at office colleagues etc ‘top up’ our social quota. Seniors aren’t lonely because they’re losing touch with their friends and family (although this does contribute to the phenomenon!) – they’re lonely because their lives have simply reached a stage where casual social interaction does not occur during the course of the day. Coupled with the fact that seniors are more likely to have health problems which may make it more difficult to get out and about, the upshot is often a crippling loneliness which comes as a surprise to many.
Why Is Loneliness Dangerous?
Humans are powerfully social animals. Even the most introverted individual will need some human company from time to time. Sure, sometimes we need to be on our own – but being on our own too much can lead to serious mental health problems. Sadly, substance abuse is a bit of a covert epidemic among lonely seniors. Depression is a very common side effect of loneliness. Loneliness is, in fact, such a dangerous phenomenon that it’s considered more dangerous than obesity, and may well shorten a lifespan as much as smoking. It can impair immune function, advance dementia, and increase one’s risk of heart disease. A lonely person, it seems, can quite literally die from a broken heart. Needless to say, this is all deeply worrying.
What Can You Do About It?
Well, rather obviously, the best thing one can do to fend off loneliness is to socialize. However, this isn’t always as simple as it sounds. Getting out and about to social events isn’t always easy, and those who live in isolated locations may find that the social calendar in their area is lacking. Furthermore, friends and family have their own commitments to deal with, and – however good their intentions – may well not have as much time as their ageing loved one really needs. Seniors who want to avoid loneliness often have to take some seriously proactive steps – steps which can be painful. If you live in an isolated area, for example, it may be a good idea to move somewhere with more social potential If this isn’t an option (or you’re already there!), try some of these suggestions:
- Start a small business. This will both provide an income and keep you in touch with the world at large.
- Use the internet. There are websites which exist nowadays for the purpose of connecting people. This can be a great starting point for meeting new people and organizing face-to-face social events.
- Volunteer. Charity work is a fantastic way to give back to the world while gaining a great social life at the same time!
- Join a club.
- Go for walks. Heading out into the world for a stroll will not only keep you fit, but provide the a wealth of casual ‘how-de-do’ encounters.
- Maintain an interest in people.
- Admit your feelings. If you’re feeling lonely or depressed, tell someone. If there’s nobody to tell, reach out to one of the many charities, organizations, and churches which can help.