Loneliness has long been a prevalent problem among the elderly. Many senior citizens experience loneliness after their adult children have moved away or with the passing of old friends or family members. The death of a spouse can also leave many seniors feeling lonely.
Cases of extreme loneliness often lead to social isolation, which can happen when elderly individuals have only a few or no other people to interact with. This is especially common for seniors who live alone.
In addition to social isolation, loneliness among the elderly has presented other challenges that often affect the mental and physical health of seniors. Increased depression, anxiety and cognitive impairments are often linked to loneliness, but research has shown that lonely seniors are also more prone to excessive weight gain along with high blood pressure and heart disease. Loneliness can even have negative effects on the immune system, which often results in higher occurrences of illness.
To try to combat the problem of loneliness that many elderly people face, measures are being taken to keep seniors engaged socially.
Healthcare worker and/or volunteer visits
Seniors who are still able to live on their own often rely on healthcare providers who make house calls. Some doctors still give patients the option of receiving in-home care, but there are also nurses who travel from home to home to provide medical care and companionship to seniors.
Volunteers are also available to visit the elderly and make them feel less alone, and even visit seniors who don’t require in-home healthcare services. These volunteers may deliver meals and keep seniors socially engaged in other ways, such as by playing games or simply conversing with them. Some volunteers are even willing to run errands for seniors and assist with housekeeping.
Retirement communities/nursing homes
Elderly individuals who can no longer live alone or need assistance in their daily living often move into nursing homes, assisted living facilities or other types of retirement communities. These living centers for seniors provide any needed medical care, help with daily tasks, and provide sources of socialization and companionship to keep residents from feeling lonely.
To address the issue of loneliness, many of these facilities feature group activities, such as exercise classes, art workshops and game nights, to encourage seniors to interact with other residents and staff members.
Seniors who are bedridden often rely on staff members, friends and family, and volunteers for companionship. These individuals may also read or watch movies with seniors who are no longer mobile to try to prevent loneliness and social isolation.
Special needs living facilities
Feelings of loneliness are often compounded by physical or mental impairments that some seniors face. Elderly individuals who live with these challenges often benefit from living in communities that offer accommodations to address their special needs. Seniors who live in these communities can feel as though they’re living mostly normal lives, while still having access to any extra assistance that’s required.
Elderly people who are living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia are often advised to live in dementia villages that have been designed specifically for individuals with these conditions. Many of these communities can even accommodate people who are in the middle or late stages of dementia, and offer residents many opportunities to still be social so that they don’t feel lonely. Dementia villages are also beneficial for family members of seniors who are incapable of providing care for them.
Visual impairments can leave some elderly people feeling especially lonely and socially isolated, and there are senior communities that cater to people who have lost partial or total vision. Residents’ rooms have the layouts and extra features that are needed to make seniors feel safe and less alone. Staff members at these facilities who know how to provide proper care for people with visual impairments can offer additional support.
Activities for seniors
Elderly people who can still live alone with little to no assistance but still want to remain socially engaged can take part in many activities that are designed specifically for seniors. The costs for seniors to participate in these activities are usually lower than for the general population.
Hobby clubs, dance classes and gym workout sessions for seniors are among the best activities that promote socialization and combat loneliness. Golf and senior group bike rides are other good activities for keeping the elderly population engaged socially.
Many amusement parks, zoos and other recreational centers offer discounts for seniors to try to encourage the aging population to visit and remain active in life. There are even special nights for seniors at many casinos and bingo halls, where seniors can go to not feel alone.
Some travel companies have also recognized the problem of loneliness among the elderly and have designed group tours for seniors who want to travel with other like-minded individuals. Seniors may choose to join one of these travel groups with friends or go alone with a group to make new friends who may offer the companionship that’s needed to beat loneliness.
Mental health services
Mental health professionals often see seniors who are struggling with loneliness. Counselors, psychiatrists and other experts in this field can offer talk therapy sessions and more intensive forms of therapy, such as prolonged exposure (PE) or cognitive processing therapy (CPT), if traumatic events have caused any seniors to become withdrawn.
If a senior’s loneliness is linked to social anxiety, a mental health professional may suggest certain anti-anxiety medications as part of their therapy plan. Zoloft, Paxil and Effexor XR are just a few of the drugs that mental health professionals often recommend for social anxiety treatment.
In addition to one-on-one therapy with a mental health professional, group counseling sessions can provide retirees with the support they need to feel less alone. Seniors who attend these sessions can bond with other elderly participants, who may share common stories and offer extra support to one another.
When people aren’t always around to provide the socialization that retirees need to avoid becoming withdrawn, support animals can offer some additional love and attention to lonely seniors. Certain organizations offer support dogs and cats specifically to seniors to help them cope with loneliness.
Along with offering support, some pets may be trained as guide dogs for the visually impaired or to predict seizures that affect seniors with epilepsy. These types of pets can alleviate much of the fear that some elderly individuals with medical issues may have about living alone.
Religious faith is a powerful tool that many lonely seniors have used to feel more connected, and faith-based services have helped many retirees lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives even in their golden years.
Some churches and other religious centers feature services that are meant to encourage the elderly to engage with the community. Seniors are also invited to volunteer at many of these religious centers so that they can feel socially connected while doing things to help other people.
Seniors who aren’t able to leave their homes still have access to different forms of faith-based support that can help combat loneliness. Many churches, synagogues and other places of worship live-stream religious services online or offer on-demand videos for seniors to watch at their leisure. Some preachers, rabbis and other clergy members are also willing to make house calls to housebound seniors.
Telehealth is a form of technology that lets patients communicate with medical personnel from remote locations. This internet-based video call system makes it possible for patients to get in contact with doctors and nurses without having to visit a medical center.
Elderly patients who aren’t able to leave their locations because of mobility challenges or other health conditions can stay more connected to the outside world with this technology. Telehealth is now widely used by nurses who have completed online MSN FNP programs to check on elderly patients and monitor their physical and mental wellness.
Robots have now been developed to provide comfort and companionship to seniors when other people aren’t present. These robots are programmed with lifelike features that allow them to communicate with seniors like a real person would.
Some of these robots consist of voice speakers and screens that can show digital texts and images. The robots can also set reminders to take medications, go to doctor’s appointments, and tend to other important tasks. A robot of this type may even have the ability to engage in friendly small talk and tell jokes to brighten an elderly person’s mood.
There are even robots that are made to resemble cats and dogs. These pet-like robots may be ideal for seniors who can’t care for real pets because of physical or cognitive difficulties or restrictions on owning pets where they live.
Seniors don’t have to feel as though they’re all by themselves in the world. Many of the resources that are available nowadays to address the problem of senior loneliness have given many elderly people hope and have improved their quality of life in different ways.