It may come as no surprise that with older age comes a higher chance of loneliness—especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Seniors face extreme obstacles when it comes to fighting loneliness and solitude, which can pose even additional potential health risks. Caregivers and loved ones who don’t live with their seniors may also face equal struggles when trying to help seniors cope with these feelings.
What causes loneliness in seniors?
Loneliness among seniors can create difficulty in their ability to form close relationships and connect with others. Research shows these feelings can stem from a combination of genetic, environmental and personality factors, including:
- Negative sense of self
- Death of spouse or a loved one
- Leaving a familiar job
- Moving to a new neighborhood
- Living alone
- Lack of local community activities
Sociologist Robert S. Weiss developed a “Loneliness Theory” that suggests a lack of six different types of relationships in our lives can cause us to feel alone. He posited that if these certain needs aren’t fulfilled, the absence contributes to feelings of loneliness. These needs include:
- Social integration
- Reassurance of worth
- Sense of reliable alliance
Symptoms of loneliness in older adults
Although common, recognizing the signs of loneliness can be complicated at times, as they are often overlooked or accidentally dismissed. Here are some clear verbal and behavioral indicators your senior loved one may be suffering from loneliness:
- Excessive spending
- Lack of communication
- Change in physical upkeep
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty paying attention
- Shift in mood
A recent report showed that almost one-fourth of seniors over 65 are considered socially isolated, and other studies prove that seniors can still experience loneliness even if they live with close family.
“A key scientific question is whether social isolation and loneliness are two independent processes affecting health differently, or whether loneliness provides a pathway for social isolation to affect health,” said Lisbeth Nielsen, PhD, of NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, in an article published by the National Institute on Aging.
Solutions for senior loneliness
Luckily, there are many ways to help seniors who suffer from loneliness. After assessing the warning signs, try sitting down with your loved one to talk. These kinds of conversations are not easy, but expressing your care and concern may allow them to become more vulnerable and allow you to develop a better understanding of what they’re going through.
Also, talk with your senior about bringing home a pet to keep them company. Pets not only provide a sense of companionship but are also found to reduce blood pressure and help calm your emotions. If your senior is unable to take care of an animal full-time, consider looking into animal-assisted therapy. This type of treatment allows patients to interact with animals and help improve their health without having to make a lifelong commitment.