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How To Combat Loneliness and Isolation for Older Adults


Although loneliness and isolation are experienced by a multitude of people, these conditions are particularly prevalent among older individuals. Unfortunately, they also have serious implications. According to the World Health Organization, social isolation and loneliness can have a long-term impact on older individuals’ health and longevity.

While loneliness is often overlooked as a health issue, it can have a similar impact on a person's longevity as smoking, obesity, and inactivity.

Even though loneliness is a serious health issue, it has a variety of solutions. Older adults experiencing loneliness and social isolation can improve their social interactions, become more active, make new friends, and improve their health.

Health Impacts of Loneliness and Isolation in Old Age

In the United States, in particular, loneliness and isolation are serious problems among older adults. One 2020 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) found that over a quarter of adults over the age of 65 in the U.S. experience isolation and a significant portion of those same adults feel lonely.

On a mental health level, this also implicates the fact that many older adults may be more susceptible to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety because of their social isolation and loneliness. On a physical level, as well, older adults may be more susceptible to a variety of physical health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are many health risks that come with loneliness, including:

  • Increased risk of premature death;
  • A 50% increased risk of developing dementia;
  • A 29% increase in the risk of developing heart disease.

Despite the range of health issues that can sprout from isolation and loneliness, they can easily be prevented. In short, developing healthy relationships and seeking out regular social interaction, can improve your quality of life and longevity.

Activities To Build Social Connections

Most people experience loneliness at some point. After all, it is the feeling of being alone — something that can happen throughout different stages of life. This feeling can occur whether you are at home by yourself or in a room of crowded people. Social isolation, on the other hand, comes from a lack of social connections and can lead to prolonged loneliness.

If you are suffering from social isolation, several activities can help to build social connections and improve your physical and mental health.

Join a Club or Class

There are many types of groups that older adults can join for the enrichment and social interaction. These groups include:

  • Game night: Game night can include anything from Monopoly to shuffleboard. Planning a game night can help you to develop long-term friendships. Game nights can also be planned to accommodate those with limited mobility.
  • Fitness classes: Fitness classes can expand your social circle and improve your physical health. Some examples of fitness classes include yoga, swimming, running, and basketball.
  • Book clubs: If you like to read, then joining a book club in your area is a great place to make new social connections. You can ask around at the local library or community center to learn about book clubs that meet in your area.
  • Religious groups: If you are religious or spiritual, then meeting with a local prayer group or another religious group can help you to deepen your faith while making new friends.

Each of these groups provides older adults with an opportunity to explore their interests, learn new skills, and meet other people in their community.

Find a Community Online

If you live in a smaller community or are struggling to find other individuals who share your interests, finding a community online can be an excellent alternative. Being active in communities can facilitate talk about hobbies, current events, exercise ideas, the adversities of limited mobility — and even talk over the best options and features for a wheelchair or other assistive devices. Some ways to find an online community include:

  • Joining Facebook groups: Making a Facebook profile and joining Facebook groups is a free and easy way to meet other people with similar interests. For example, if you love bird-watching, you can join a bird-watching group and share pictures and information about your bird-watching activities.
  • Attending virtual events: Can’t find anyone locally who is organizing a book club? Join a virtual book club! These events can take place on video conferencing sites like Zoom, allowing you to see the other participants’ faces and have real-time conversations.
  • Finding a digital pen pal: Connecting with someone via email is a good way to develop a friendship over the internet. You can even rekindle old friendships with friends who live in other parts of the world.

For some older adults, exploring the world of digital social interaction can be daunting. However, the internet is an excellent resource for improving your level of social connection and making new friends in your later years.

Go on a Group Vacation

If you want to improve your social connections, while also seeing a bit more of the world, you can go on a group vacation.

Group travel provides older adults with the chance to see the world, participate in planned excursions, and bond with new friends. If you have limited mobility, then outsourcing your travel planning to a tour company can reduce your travel-related stress and help you spend more time enjoying yourself. You’ll also inevitably bond with others in the same tour group this way.

Move to an Age-friendly Community

If your isolation is serious enough, you can move to a community where you know your mental and physical health will inevitably improve, such as an age-friendly community. An age-friendly community is a place where the older population, community, public services, and institutions all work together to create an environment where people can age well, and in a healthy way.

Age-friendly communities often present specific accommodations, including:

  • Wheelchair ramps;
  • Accessible public transportation;
  • Outdoor spaces for increased connection;
  • Housing that allows older individuals to live independently;
  • Employment, opportunities, and civic engagement;
  • Health services and providers.

Age-friendly communities provide older individuals, especially those with limited mobility, the ability to live full and well-rounded lives in their later years. Some examples of age-friendly communities include Coral Springs, Florida; Scottsdale, Arizona; Honolulu County, Hawaii; and Tacoma, Washington, to name a few.

How To Help With Loneliness

While social connection is important to prevent isolation, no one wants or needs to be around other people all the time. If you are spending some time with others, but you still feel lonely or bored when you are alone, there are several ways you can reduce that loneliness on your own.

Find Creative Ways to Keep in Touch

Not every social interaction has to be face-to-face. If you are feeling lonely, try to spend more time connecting with friends and family in creative ways. This can include video calls, texting, virtual games, and mobile apps.

By using these tools to connect, you can strengthen your relationships with loved ones who live far away from you.

Talk to a Therapist

If you are feeling lonely and bored for prolonged stretches of time, you may benefit from regular conversations with a therapist. This can help you to cope with feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety that many people experience in their later years.

A therapist, counselor, or psychologist can help you to work through your current feelings and struggles. If you’re struggling to find the right one, however, you find a therapist who has experience working with older adults or people in a similar generation.

Give Back

According to the National Institute on Aging, one way for older adults to connect with others is to give back to their community with purposeful activities.

One way to do this is to volunteer your time. Choose a cause you are passionate about, find a local organization that works in that field, and volunteer to help however you can. This can include tutoring young children, spending time with dogs at the local shelter, or pulling weeds in the community garden.

No matter your passion, there is a way you can help give back to your community.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

While there are many ways to combat the effects of isolation and loneliness, it may be impossible to solve all of these feelings or their negative health impacts. If you are struggling with isolation or loneliness in your later years, do not hesitate to reach out for help.

This can include reaching out to friends and family, local community centers, and finding other support services. Health services such as Medicare can cover the costs of therapy and in-home care.

By reaching out for help, you are taking the first step in reversing the negative health impact of loneliness and improving your quality of life.

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