Apr 9, 2020
There is a public health threat looming across the United States that’s not visible to most but affects nearly half of all Americans daily: loneliness. Social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is twice as harmful as obesity. Worst of all, loneliness is a contributing factor in senior suicides, which are rising in the U.S. While it is not something people like to think about, now more than ever, Americans must remove the stigma around mental health and spread awareness to better combat loneliness.
Some 12 million Americans older than 65 live alone, and the time of year when a lack of companionship and isolation is most palpable is winter, when travel challenges can keep them from attending family gatherings or the harsh weather deters them from venturing out for a social event. Although we’ve turned the corner into spring, seniors now face the additional challenge of an enforced isolation period to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Prolonged loneliness can quickly manifest into more serious issues.
Loneliness doesn’t have to be synonymous with getting older or with aging in place. Here are tips on how to help keep loneliness and its negative health effects at bay:
Early intervention: Spotting loneliness in yourself or someone you love can be difficult. The most common physical and behavioral signs of loneliness include persistent sadness, impaired cognitive performance, lower self-esteem or lack of motivation and energy. Early intervention can positively affect one’s quality of life, so it’s important to address these symptoms as soon as possible before they become overwhelming.
Use technology: Technology can play a key role in reducing loneliness, ensuring seniors are always connected to loved ones and care teams who can monitor and interact with them. Keeping in touch with loved ones remotely has never been easier thanks to email, video chatting, texting and phone calls (see the related story “Distant Socializing” at inland360.com for the best apps).
Get outdoors: Going outside for a walk, bike ride or gardening helps keep up strength and increases the brain’s feel-good chemicals. Being in nature has also found to be calming and provide numerous health benefits. Just be sure to stay 6 feet away from people you meet.
Build a network: As soon as possible, when the current ban on gathering is lifted, connect with people. Having friends, purpose and passions helps eliminate feelings of isolation. Consider organizing or joining a book club or a group fitness class. Explore local activities organized by a senior community center (check out www.cityoflewiston.org and click on the Parks and Rec tab, then the 50+ Active tab) or find a National Council of Aging program through www.ncoa.org/ncoa-map.