We sometimes become preoccupied with the physical health of our seniors, while overlooking their emotional health — which can also dramatically affect their quality of life, and in turn influence their health.
Loneliness is seniors is a common emotional issue that is often not addressed directly by seniors or their families. Those who have lost spouses, or who live far away from their relatives, or who find themselves home-bound due to ill health, often find themselves emotionally as well as physically isolated.
This isolation over time can lead to depression and physical decline. Research indicates loneliness raises the likelihood of high blood pressure and heart disease and has been found to be a major risk factor for mortality in older adults.
Those suffering from loneliness often won’t speak of their unhappiness and they internalize their feelings. They may not feel there is much they can do about their circumstances, however extensive research has been conducted to discover strategies to alleviate the condition. There are many lifestyle choices they can make to alleviate loneliness and re-introduce interest and joy into their lives.
Participate in Clubs and Organizations
If you can leave your home, there are a variety of options for meeting like-minded people. Social or special-interest clubs, such as book clubs, quilting clubs, gardening clubs, etc., are a great way of meeting people with continuing similar interests. If you have a faith, becoming active in a church of your choice provides emotional and social, as well as spiritual support. Volunteering at a charity of your choice provides both social opportunities and reinforces feelings of value and participation.
Take a class of interest at the local senior center or community college, or if you cannot leave home, consider a tele-class or seminar. This may not lead directly to long-term friendships, but it offers the opportunity to learning and provides mental stimulation as well as a social outlet.
Get friendly with the web
There are so many social opportunities now on the Internet, from finding old friends or staying in touch with relatives on Facebook, to participating in chat rooms and online communities. New technologies such as Skype make it easy to do video chats now, for free and anywhere there is a wireless signal. There are also opportunities to do games, puzzles and the like on the Web that can also be interactive. So those who find themselves home-bound have more opportunities than ever to reach out to others.
Invite people to your home
If you cannot leave your home, have regular gatherings at your home, whether for cards, or reading groups, or whatever common interest you may have. If you are not mobile, make it easy for friends to come to you.
Care for a pet
The therapeutic value of pets is well known to both children and the elderly. Pets such as dogs and cats are a calming influence — petting animals has been shown to lower blood pressure — but they are animal “friends” who provide their owners with unconditional love. An added benefit is the the responsibility of tasking care of a pet often provides the senior with a sense of value, since they know they are needed by another.
Consider finding a significant other
There is no expiration date on love. People can start new relationships at any age, and even if the relationship that develops is more companionship than passion, it provides both partners with someone who they know is available for them and cares for their well-being.
There have never been more opportunities for seniors to engage socially with others, even when they are home-bound. If you have a loved one who is suffering from loneliness, discuss their options with them, and if necessary, help them take the first steps toward a more social life.