Loneliness is a challenge most people face at some point in their lives, even when they’re not actually alone.
According to the National Institute on Aging, social isolation and loneliness can lead to health problems like cognitive decline, depression, or even heart disease.
Keep in mind that just because an older adult lives alone, it doesn’t mean they are socially isolated. Conversely, an older adult living among others may still experience loneliness.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help your loved one stay engaged and surrounded by people who care about them. Learn more about combatting loneliness below.
Why Are Many Older Adults Lonely?
Loneliness in older adults can have many causes — some that are apparent, and others less so.
Chronic illness, reduced mobility, physical isolation, the loss of loved ones, and other lapses in emotional support networks can all happen quickly and impact a normally positive outlook.
For older adults who are coping with the loss of loved ones and decreased mobility, it is possible to adjust and continue to enjoy a vibrant life.
Ideas to Help Older Adults Stay Socially Engaged and Avoid Loneliness
Venture into the community.
Adult education courses, houses of worship, senior centers, civic affairs committees, and even grassroots political action groups offer opportunities to meet people with like-minded interests.
New friendships are waiting to be made, not to mention the benefits and the sense of achievement that come with learning a new skill or promoting a good cause. Don’t overlook all of the ways your local community makes it possible to meet new people — there are plenty to choose from.
Join a book club.
Book clubs are a great way to meet new people and offer a chance to learn both about them and from them. Literature is a reflection of the world, and book clubs offer an interesting cross-section that helps to keep attendees’ minds sharp.
According to publisher Penguin Random House, book clubs are flourishing, even amidst the growing presence of e-reading devices.
In fact, many bookstores encourage and support such clubs. Check your area for one, or your local library to find a club you can join.
Draw upon past interests.
Perhaps you once had an interest in photography, weather science, archeology, or other fascinating topics or activities. Many people do, but then largely abandon their avocational passions as other responsibilities take center stage.
Revisiting those early interests can provide a way to connect with people who share them, injecting a new vitality to your daily experience. You’re likely to have more time to devote to these hobbies now, too.
You might start by subscribing to a relevant magazine, joining an online discussion group, or attending a seminar related to your interest.
Consider a part-time job or volunteer position.
Employment in the community can reinvigorate your daily routine and ease a sense of isolation. You may want to explore positions related to your previous career, or you might want to try something completely different. The key is to find a position that will keep you occupied and enjoying your work.
Volunteering is another option, and you might find a position in places like a museum, a historical society, or a library. A chance to be around others while helping a nonprofit organization makes volunteering a perfect choice for older adults.
Form a canine connection.
If you enjoy dogs and are able to care for one, you’ll find that in many ways, the dog returns the favor, with an emotional bond that conveys at least some of the benefits of human bonding.
Caring for an animal also provides a sense of purpose. Felines are also worthy companions, but Fido bestows a bonus: a dog regularly gets you out of the house and into the street. You’ll get exercise, as well as an opportunity to encounter neighbors and other dog-walkers.
Think carefully about which pet you will choose: Puppies can be exciting, but they’re also a lot of work and can be dangerous underfoot. An older, well-trained dog with a calm disposition could make a good pet for an older adult.
Make use of local services.
If your ability to get around is limited, find out what services are available to keep you mobile. Government or charity-sponsored paratransit can help you overcome the physical challenges of staying connected to the community.
Ride-sharing services may be an option, too. You can hail one yourself if you have a smartphone and the appropriate app. Some apps also allow a loved one to request a ride for you.
More Tips to Help Older Adults Stay Independent
The effects of aging and chronic illness can make your loved one’s world seem smaller. However, by taking a good look at what your community offers, it’s possible to maximize your opportunities, find companionship and connection, and retain your independence.