Occasional loneliness is a natural part of the human condition. You can expect it to hit you every now and then before fading away without leaving any sort of mark. Pervasive and chronic loneliness, however, can take a significant toll on your mental, emotional, and physical health and diminish your quality of life over time.
While loneliness and social isolation are prevalent among older adults in Federal Way, they are by no means inevitable. Being proactive and taking steps to stay socially active and build meaningful connections with your peers can mitigate the effects of loneliness and lead to a richer, fuller life.
Why Is Senior Loneliness Common?
During your elderly years a number of significant life changes are typically unraveling – often simultaneously – that can disrupt the social bonds you’ve already established. Some of these changes may include the transition from a rewarding full time career to retirement, the more frequent deaths of your loved ones and neighbors, living on your own for the first time in years, or being physically separated from siblings, friends, children and grandchildren.
The increasing occurrence of being or feeling “alone” is common among seniors. In order for solitude to be healthy and positive, it must be a choice, and for many older adults, that is not the case.
Additionally, research by the National Institute on Aging has found that loss of mobility, lack of transportation, and the increasing presence of medical conditions can add to your risk of experiencing loneliness and isolation.
These life circumstances don’t always lead to detrimental loneliness and social isolation. Some people enjoy living alone and many take advantage of their retirement to pursue activities and interests they may not have had time to before.
What Are the Effects of Loneliness on Health?
According to the NIA, biology and social and genetic determinants are all involved in social isolation and loneliness, two conditions that often but not always coexist.
Regardless of the root cause of loneliness, its impact on your health is real and damaging. Social isolation and loneliness is linked to higher risks for numerous mental and physical conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- A weakened immune system
- Cognitive decline
- Alzheimer’s disease
Some studies have found the repercussions of loneliness are even more extreme, even fatal. According to an article from Psychology Today, researchers have discovered that loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, and lonely people are 50 percent more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships.
Health and psychological conditions can also have a cyclical relationship with loneliness and social isolation. For example, those dealing with depression or anxiety or experiencing memory loss may feel increasingly lonely and isolated.
How Seniors Can Beat Loneliness
Chronic loneliness and social isolation are genuine conditions that shouldn’t be disregarded or brushed off. Nor are they any cause for embarrassment or shame. Many seniors find themselves struggling with these conditions, even if they were previously prepared for and looking forward to their golden years, and loneliness is not a sign of mental weakness. However, you also don’t have to accept it as the new normal for your life. Loneliness can be overcome.
According to the NIA, engaging in meaningful, productive activities with others can give you a renewed sense of purpose, boost your mood, and lead you to live longer. These activities also help you maintain your well-being and even improve your cognitive function.
The activities that deter or decrease the effects of loneliness are numerous, and you can choose the options that best fit with your personality, comfort level, and interests. Exercising regularly and going for walks may be beneficial for you, or maybe you would enjoy taking a class, joining a social club, or volunteering your time for a cause you’re passionate about.
Other ways to meet people and stay socially active include:
- Making a routine visit to a beauty salon or barbershop
- Dining with a group of friends
- Taking day trips to go shopping or explore new places
- Adopting a new pet
- Playing group games with others
- Undertaking a new hobby
Senior living in Federal Way has also been shown to successfully combat social isolation and loneliness. (Related: 8 Best Reasons to Move to an Active Adult Community in Washington) Village Green Retirement Campus not only offers you a new community to join, but also provides access to a number of the activities and amenities that support your ability to connect with other residents and build meaningful relationships. Village Green regularly hosts a variety of events and classes, in addition to facilitating scenic drives, shopping trips, and other outings to help you stay socially active and experience less loneliness.
“Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks.” National Institute on Aging. Accessed online at https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks
“Can You Die From Loneliness?” Psychology Today. Accessed online at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201901/can-you-die-loneliness
“Combatting the Epidemic of Loneliness in Seniors.” Aging Care blog. Accessed online at https://www.agingcare.com/articles/loneliness-in-the-elderly-151549.htm
“10 Things You Can Do Today to Combat Senior Isolation.” A Place for Mom, a senior living blog. Accessed online at https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/6-20-16-things-you-can-do-to-combat-senior-isolation/