“Our connection to others is what binds us to life.” — Dr. Patrick Arbore
Seniors are especially likely to experience loneliness and social isolation—even without a global pandemic as a cause for social distancing. Loneliness can happen bit by bit, leaving you or loved ones feeling cut off and without contact.
According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone. That’s not really the problem. The issue is that more than a million seniors report going for over a month without speaking to a friend, family member or neighbor.
Recently, I talked with a friend who had just experienced this. Jason* moved to a country house to get out of the madness of the city. He thought it would be cheery, delightful, and a change of pace. He shared some magical moments—seeing a white owl, picking blackberries, and having wild deer visit in the morning mist.
However, as a normally very social guy, he found it incredibly isolating. In 6 months, he talked with deer more than human beings. He confessed that he’d found 2 cute green bugs, and put them into a jar. He’d started having conversations with these two. He wasn’t nuts. Just feeling a bit lonely.
This may seem quirky or odd. But, let’s face it.
We all need someone to talk to. Saying hello to the grocery clerk is one thing. Having a friend, neighbor, or even a casual acquaintance can make all the difference.
As we age, our lives change. For many seniors, the workplace was a primary source of human contact. If you’re retired, working from home, or a solo entrepreneur, you know exactly how easy it is for days to stretch into weeks, without human contact.
With the passage of time, comes the realization: people change. Friends drift apart. Interests evolve. People you were close to in the past may have moved on—physically or psychologically. They may have moved to other states or countries. They may have radically different interests.
Finally, our close loved ones may also have passed away. Deaths of friends, spouses, and family members may contribute to the sense of social isolation.
It’s not just that being lonely feels bad, it’s also really bad for our health. From any cause, feeling alone can increase feelings of vulnerability. It can contribute to a serious decline in physical health, leading to depression, and lack of interest in life.
As if that wasn’t enough, as seniors, we can fall on our own swords. We may feel too proud to admit to something like loneliness. It feels too mundane. It reeks of self-pity and self-grasping. At least that’s what our proud ego tells us. It’s not true.
Loneliness can affect anyone. At any age. And the truth is, there’s a lot you can do to adjust, adapt, correct, and prevent it. Let’s explore the top ways you can take charge.
These actions are all within our control. Most of them do not cost anything. And, they are only a starter kit to ignite your creative thinking.
It might feel like work. But, muster up the gumption. Smile more. People will respond, smile back, and talk to you.
Puppies make great companions. For starters, you’ll have someone to care for, talk to, and go for walks with. Dogs make great pets, plus they help reduce anxiety, lower stress, and boost self esteem. A puppy improves social connection, as it is a natural conversation magnet. You’ll get exercise, and you’ll get interaction.
With so many foods and beverages moving out of range as we age, it’s good to get together for a cup of tea. Tea contains many health benefits, yet perhaps the most important one is getting together with friends. Invite friends over and make it a gathering to catch up, talk, and meet new friends.
Remember the phone? It’s fun to connect with friends, relatives, and people of all ages. In both the U.S. and U.K., you can also reach out on hotlines to talk to a volunteer. For instance, the Institute on Aging offers a Friendship Line to support individuals who find connecting within the community challenging.
With recent social distancing, more and more people are relying on Zoom to stay in close contact with friends and family. Some seniors enjoy using Zoom to easily connect with their grandchildren. If you’re not comfortable yet with the technology, ask a friend or relative to help you get acquainted. Additionally, many community centers and libraries have training courses for basic computer skills.
Get involved with learning opportunities in your local area. Most communities have centers, learning organizations, universities, and programs to appeal to learners of all ages. Is there a topic you love? Is there one you’ve always wanted to explore. Now is the time.
Let’s not wait another moment to do something about loneliness. If you and I were sitting together, we’d have a cup of tea—and make a plan. I don’t like to get to formal about these things.
However, we can still do this together. Grab a note card, piece of paper, or random envelope. Write your first ideas down and in just a few minutes, you’ll have a personalized plan of action.
If you’re feeling lonely, it’s time to listen. Many people, organizations, and options exist to help you connect with caring human beings. Whether you want to make an informal plan, or pick up the phone to talk with a caring volunteer—take action. Reach out and get in touch.
* Names changed to protect privacy