Everyone feels lonely sometimes, particularly at the moment, as our movements have been restricted for the last few months. We are all missing social interactions with family, friends and colleagues. However, the elderly in our community may be finding it even more difficult as they are more typically more vulnerable to feeling isolated and lonely.
Research has linked loneliness to higher risks of a variety of physical and mental conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, weakened immune system and depression. Statistics have also proven loneliness to be as deadly as smoking and more dangerous to our health than obesity. As such, it’s important to be aware of the signs of loneliness in older relatives and friends.
What is Loneliness?
According to Lifeline Australia, loneliness is a feeling of sadness or distress about being by yourself or feeling disconnected from the world around you. It may be felt more over a long period of time. It is also possible to feel lonely, even when surrounded by people.
Psychology Today outlines a number of factors that impact how people may respond to loneliness. While everyone is different and will respond differently to feeling lonely, there are a number of signs that you can look out for if you’re worried about an elderly loved one.
- Lack of Sleep: A study has linked feelings of loneliness and isolation tobroken sleeping patterns. If you notice that your loved one is more tired than they used to be, or if they have told you that they are not sleeping as well as usual, this could be a sign that they are feeling lonely.
- Losing Weight: A person who is feeling lonely may not eat as well as they used to because they feel that cooking for just one is pointless. As we age, we will typically experience changes in appetite, which can magnify this problem. If you notice your loved one losing weight, consider asking to join them for a regular meal each week. Or, deliver pre-cooked food for them that they can simply reheat at mealtimes.
- Frequent Sickness: A study from UCLAfound that people who are suffering from loneliness and isolation are more likely to have a weakened immune system. This is because people who are lonelier tend to have more stress, which can activate the “fight or flight” response. If this is continually activated over time, it can become harmful for the human body.
- They’re Watching a Lot of TV: It’s natural for older people who have retired to watch a bit more TV. However, research has found a connection between loneliness and binge-watching TV series. This is because TV is a good distraction from negative feelings and can help us ‘switch off’.
How to Help Loved Ones Deal With Loneliness
If left for too long, loneliness can lead to significant health issues. As such, it’s important to be aware of the signs mentioned above and make sure you take action as soon as you notice these, by consulting a medical professional. Even without any of the above signs, your loved one may feel a little more isolated than they used to as they age. The following actions may help to keep them socially stimulated before it becomes a serious problem.
- Keep in Touch: This is the most obvious point, but it’s also the most effective. While we’re all guilty of taking on too much and getting caught up in our own daily lives, it’s important to maintain communication with elderly loved ones. Try scheduling a weekly call or visits to remind them they are important to you.
- Encourage Them to Socialise: Your parent may have stopped going out as much since they’ve retired. Try to encourage them to go to clubs and activities to meet new people – or to catch up with those that have been in their lives for years.
- Teach them Technology: The Internet offers a number of opportunities to stay socially connected with current acquaintances and to meet new people. Google and Facebook can help them find new activities and classes in their area, as well as online forums where they can talk to other people with similar interests.
If your loved one is experiencing loneliness, remind them that help and support is available to them. They may enjoy an Ageless Grace® class from Brain Sparks. Get in touch with us today to find out more.