Updated February 23, 2023 – Unfortunately many of today’s seniors live alone. Maybe they have gone through the death of their spouse or partner, have experienced divorce, or over the years their children or relatives moved away. Often, these elders who live alone become socially isolated.
This is especially true if they are no longer surrounded by close friends, peers, or loved ones for whatever reason.
And, in the new normal of life after the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting social distancing, seniors are even more isolated than ever – regardless of whether they have friends and relatives nearby.
If this is the case, you may be wondering how you can help your senior parent feel less lonely. Among other things, you can help an older family member reduce isolation by engaging with them through regular phone calls, weekly video calls, or by playing video games together online.
Pets can help ease loneliness. Taking online classes or safe, physically distanced in-person classes can also improve their quality of life.
Of course, since we’ve lived through a pandemic, the elderly people in your life should not attempt in-person social interaction until they have been fully vaccinated.
What Causes Loneliness In The Elderly
Loneliness is an all-too-common challenge that many elderly people face. Social isolation, physical illness, and loss of loved ones can all contribute to loneliness in seniors, making it a significant issue for both individuals and society at large.
One of the most common factors leading to loneliness among the elderly is social isolation. This can happen when seniors are no longer able to get out and socialize or when they lose close friends or family members.
Social isolation can also occur due to changes in physical abilities, such as the inability to drive or use public transportation, leading them to feel too restricted to leave their home.
Physical illnesses can also cause loneliness in elderly people. While dealing with a chronic illness can be challenging, it can also make it difficult to maintain social connections. With the added burden of managing symptoms and medical appointments, many elderly people simply do not have the energy or desire to socialize.
And sadly, many family members and friends can all too quickly forget about older adults once they start facing physical and mental health issues—which can lead to a sense of being forgotten and isolated.
Other causes of loneliness in senior citizens include retirement, relocation, loss of a spouse or partner, and changes in physical appearance. Retirement can bring with it a loss of purpose and identity, leading to feelings of loneliness.
Relocating can also cause social isolation, as the elderly person may not have access to family and friends in their new location. The death of a spouse or partner is often very difficult for the elderly, leaving them feeling lonely and lost. Changes in hearing and vision can also make it difficult for the elderly person to interact with others.
Seniors Living Alone: Facts And Health Risks Of Chronic Loneliness
Many seniors live alone – and that’s okay – but nowadays with Covid-19 in our lives, many of these older adults are also in social isolation.
This means that not only may these individuals be living alone but they may also be dealing with both the normal uncertainties of life and the Covid pandemic – all on their own.
It’s a difficult situation to be in which can lead to depression and possibly suicide.
(12 million) – The number of Americans over age 65 who live alone, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. The percentage of older adults who live alone quintupled from 6 percent in 1900 to a peak of 29 percent in 1990, and has slowly declined since then, to 26 percent in 2014.American Psychological Association
Sadly, the impact of loneliness is something that many seniors will continue to struggle with after the pandemic is behind us.
Even if a senior is surrounded by others, they may be very lonely. After all, look at what happened in the United States during the beginning of the pandemic last year; long-term care facilities and senior centers were shuttered to protect the residents.
Older people in care homes were shut in their rooms and social activities came to a halt. Thus, they lost their social connections with friends and loved ones – and even from other seniors within their own facility.
For many seniors, especially those in memory care facilities or who may have difficulties communicating via the phone (hearing aids!), quality of life suffered – yet they were surrounded by people every day.
Chronic loneliness increases stress. In turn, the higher stress levels lead to decreases in physical health and increased health problems, such as high blood pressure, a higher risk of heart disease, and other medical conditions.
The American Psychological Association defines loneliness as a cognitive discomfort or uneasiness from being, or perceiving, oneself as being alone. It is the emotional stress felt when our inherent needs for companionship are not met.sequimgazette.com
Additionally, chronic stress leads to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease, mental health issues, and general cognitive decline.
Furthermore, a 2010 study found that “the influence of social relationships on the risk of death is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.”
Likewise, 2016 French research finds that senior isolation in the form of living alone, combined with feelings of loneliness “were independently associated with a higher risk of mortality” in senior citizens.
Read our article, What Happens If An Elderly Person Has No One To Care For Them.
7 Tips For How To Help The Elderly With Loneliness
1. Purposeful Activities
A few years ago my mom-in-law, who was in her mid 90’s at the time was living in a 55-plus community. She was playing bridge, attending social events in the clubhouse, and going to ladies’ lunches.
After a couple of years of doing this, she remarked that although she was “busy” she felt that she was frittering her time away.
In other words – her activities didn’t give her a sense of purpose. They did not give her the kind of satisfaction that comes with being useful in life.
So, she joined a choir that did performances in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and she joined a book club so that she could discuss the books on history that she loved to read.
Being in her mid 90’s already she was limited in what she could do but the point is, she sought out activities that gave her a sense of satisfaction of “doing something” vs. the more passive types of activities that were being offered at her community center.
The good news is that being of use to others is one of the best ways to fight feelings of isolation and loneliness. The added bonus is that you are giving back to your community.
There are multiple types of purposeful activities that older adults can participate in.
There are many skills that older adults have that can be used to mentor the younger generation. Everything from learning a language to academic skills such as math or grammar.
Cooking skills, balancing a checkbook, choosing insurance, basic car maintenance, basic plumbing skills and so much more!
The kinds of things that I honestly believe should be taught in schools, but aren’t. Mentoring can be a wonderful and extremely useful way to spend your time.
Too many older adults ignore their own personal health and this can easily spiral into depression, isolation, and of course loneliness.
Participating in a daily activity of Tai Chi, Yoga, Chair Exercises, or using a stationary bike or treadmill are all excellent ways to keep your body and mind healthy.
Joining a group like Silver Sneakers can be of great benefit. And yes, it can be difficult these days with Covid-19 in our lives but it doesn’t have to be impossible.
Going for a walk with 3 or 4 other seniors, wearing a mask, and keeping socially distanced from each other can still be accomplished.
Also, using Amazon’s Echo Show or Skype or Facetime to do your exercises at home WITH a friend is another excellent way to help combat isolation but still keep yourself active. Note that there are other video conferencing, communication services, and tools as well.
Pen Pal Programs
Remember when we were younger, we would sit down and write letters to our friends? We would pour our hearts out onto the pages, share our deepest secrets, and tell them everything that was going on in our lives.
It was a way to connect with someone without having to see them face-to-face.
In a world where we are constantly glued to screens, it’s important to take a step back and connect with people the old-fashioned way. Pen pal programs are a great way to do this!
There are plenty of organizations like Project Penpal that offer pen pal programs. Some of them even have specific programs for different age groups, so you can find one that’s perfect for you.
All you need to do is sign up and they’ll match you with someone who has similar interests. Then, you just start writing!
One of the best things about having a pen pal is that you can be yourself. You can share your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
It’s a great way to make new friends and learn about different cultures. And, it’s also a lot of fun! So why not give it a try? You might just find your new best friend.
Cooking For Others
There are some of us who love cooking, and these days of Covid-19 it seems that many adults are getting into gardening, which is an excellent complement to cooking!
But cooking for just yourself can be a bit boring – so why not expand this wonderful skill by cooking for others?
Cooking a meal or baking a snack for neighbors, first responders, medical personnel, shelters and so many others is a great way to do for others!
Look for families with children who rely on school meals (these days going to school may not be the best option for many children).
Look for shelters in your area for battered women (domestic abuse victims are trapped in their homes with their abusers these days) – and any other organization in your area where you can provide food to help others.
You truly are never too old to learn new skills! I have always firmly believed that being a perpetual student is the best defense against depression, anxiety, and loneliness. The trick is to keep learning what you love to do.
My father-in-law was a financial planner and 2 weeks before he passed away at the age of 92, he was still working with clients, still studying the art of financial planning, researching new investment vehicles, etc. He loved it and I do believe it kept him alive and excited about life.
Of course, learning something new is also wonderful, a new language, a musical instrument, how to bake that perfect chocolate cake!
There are multiple companies providing courses – one I can recommend is the International Open Academy – they seem to have a large array of courses!
Also, check out this great article on Online Technology Classes! They list 25 wonderful sources for online classes related to a wide variety of subjects!
If it’s safe and possible for a senior to participate in a volunteer activity, I would encourage it. But I certainly do understand that in these days of Covid-19 that may be difficult.
There are multiple ways that you can “virtually volunteer” but also contact your local organizations to see if they need any help that you can provide in a safe manner.
Donating Your Craft
If you enjoy and are skilled at knitting, crocheting, and sewing then you can create and donate your projects to organizations such as Warm Up America or Bundles of Love, and many others. Here are 10 organizations that can use your help.
Helping The Helpless
If you are an animal lover like me, then there is no greater joy than working with animals. Many volunteers at local animal shelters are needed and oftentimes, there are only one or two individuals in the building – which minimizes the chances of contracting and/or passing on Covid-19.
There are some wonderful books on living a Purposeful Life and I encourage you to take a look at them.
2. Pets Can Give Purpose And Companionship
If your senior loved one is able to and is willing to care for a pet – then I highly encourage you to help them to adopt one. A cat, a dog, a bird, fish, whatever!
Having the responsibility of caring for another living creature on a daily basis provides purpose to one’s life and additionally, some pets can certainly bring about a great deal of companionship to lonely people.
True – it’s not the same as human companionship but there are organizations (and many on Facebook Groups) that you can connect with.
Here are just a few of the Facebook groups that I found online:
- Goldendoodles of Georgia – a group of Goldendoodle lovers
- Canary and Finch Breeders
- North Carolina Dachshund Owners/Lovers
- Tortoiseshell, Tortie, And Calico Cat Lovers Worldwide
- I Love Persian Cats
- Amazon Parrot Lovers And Owners
There seem to be groups about almost any hobby or area of interest!
3. Scheduled Calls
I call my mom-in-law every Sunday morning. It’s our ritual. I look forward to these phone calls and I hope that she does too.
Having a scheduled “call date” can help many older adults get through the day. Knowing that they will be talking to someone at a specific time (especially if they live alone) can be something to look forward to.
If there can be multiple calls per week by different family members and friends – even better!
And of course – this doesn’t have to be just a phone call. Having a video chat is a nice way to spend time with an elderly person because it is as close as you can get to being there with them.
You can use a variety of methods to make that connection.
- Use the Echo Show and its Drop In Skill
- Use FaceTime via cell phone OR on Windows PC (here’s a great guide on how to set up FaceTime on Windows)
- Use Skype on either a cell phone or computer
4. Video Games
This may seem like a contrarian idea – playing video games to combat loneliness. After all, many adults have always heard that video games can encourage loneliness.
Well – not necessarily.
Video games were once widely perceived as inherently anti-social. However, the World Health Organization,which has warned about the risks of too much gaming,recently launched #PlayApartTogether, partnering with major gaming studios to encourage people to stay home.Theconversation.com
There are video games that seniors can play online with others and I would highly recommend them to any senior who is willing to give them a try. It can cost absolutely nothing and can lead to many hours of fun and stimulation.
One of my favorite video games for older adults is the Wii Consoles – there are a nice variety of games geared towards sports or puzzles and more.
5. Correcting Medical and Mental Issues Preventing Socialization
There are some medical and mental issues that may be keeping a senior person from attending some family functions or taking a walk with a friend. This could include…
- Joint pain
- Back pain
- Foot pain
- Dry eye syndrome
6. Consider The Adopt A Senior Citizen Program
Enrolling your senior loved one in the Adopt A Senior Citizen program may give him or her someone to keep them or company, talk to, play games with, etc.
7. Robotic Tools
As technology continues to advance at an alarming rate, it’s easy to imagine that not too far in the future, we will be using some kind of robot in our homes.
We already are very well integrated with Alexa, Google Home, Roomba, and other devices that are robotic in nature.
Well, there’s a new one out there, it’s called ElliQ. The state of New York decided this robot is wonderful enough that they have distributed it to more than 800 homes with older adults.
The robots are not able to help with physical tasks, but function as more proactive versions of digital assistants like Siri or Alexa — engaging users in small talk, helping contact love ones, and keeping track of health goals like exercise and medication.theverge.com
The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) coordinated this program for the purpose of combating loneliness and social isolation among the elderly.
It’s a great program, I look forward to reading about how it progresses and how the seniors in the program are using ElliQ.
There are many more ways to help combat loneliness and isolation in seniors. I would encourage you to look into these issues and see what can be done to alleviate these problems so that you can help your senior loved one to get out a little bit and socialize.
Hopefully, these tips can help some older adults that you know and/or love to become less isolated and lonely. Choose one or two or maybe all of them!
Covid-19 seems that it will be with us for a much longer time than any of us want – so let’s work together to help each other combat loneliness and isolation so that we can someday look back and marvel at the fact that we survived a historical world event.