There are several reasons why elderly people can isolate themselves from the outside world. Isolation leads to loneliness, and loneliness leads to isolation. We must all unite our efforts to break this vicious cycle that has major repercussions on our society.
Loneliness: a mighty adversary
You don’t have to go very far to see the face of loneliness. It is everywhere: on a park bench, feeding birds; at an apartment window, watching cars go by; on a rocking chair, alone on a building balcony.
Loneliness is defined as a feeling of emptiness, deprivation or sadness. As our population ages, more and more senior citizens suffer from loneliness. This sense of isolation is felt even more during holidays (December, Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc.), although it can also be present on a daily basis. Loneliness should not be taken lightly since it can lead to serious consequences:
- loss of independence;
- eating disorders;
- increased stress and anxiety;
- sleep problems;
- suicidal thoughts;
- higher risk of chronic diseases (cardiac or vascular, especially);
It is our duty as a society to prevent our elderly members from suffering from isolation in order to conquer loneliness and its consequences.
The causes of loneliness and isolation
Several reasons or factors can contribute to loneliness and isolation, including:
- death of spouse;
- children moving away;
- a change in living environment;
- loss of network of friends;
- fear of becoming a burden;
- fear of going out and falling;
- difficulty communicating (language or hearing problems);
- illness (ex: cancer, Alzheimer’s disease).
Conquering isolation and loneliness requires teamwork
Loneliness and isolation among the elderly is, first and foremost, a social issue that must be closely monitored by our governments, the medical community, social workers, organisations, etc. In addition, families should be closer to their elderly members and pay attention to the signs indicating that a senior’s well-being might be deteriorating.
If an elderly member of your family or circle of friends seems to be isolating himself or herself, or seems to suffer from loneliness, here is some advice to help you remedy the situation:
- Visit the person as often as you can. If you have a busy schedule, make shorter visits more often.
- Call the person regularly and encourage him or her to phone you. Make sure that the person can easily reach you. Show interest in the topics that are on his or her mind: day-to-day life, health, hobbies and problems.
- Also talk about subjects that interest you, even if you get the feeling that the person doesn’t feel involved. Who knows, you might benefit from his or her advice, and it will also give you the opportunity to make the person feel that he or she matters.
- Encourage the person to stay active. Go for a walk together or tag along when she or he runs errands.
- When you visit, bring your children or those of family members. Senior citizens often enjoy the company of young children, who represent a great source of joy and entertainment. You can also bring a pet, if you have one, and if the elderly person enjoys that. Animal therapy is a proven method to combat loneliness and isolation.
- Suggest adopting a pet. Offer your help in caring for the pet or for vet appointments.
- Offer the person your help for personal care or housework. Styling someone’s hair or helping her or him straighten or clean up the house can give you the opportunity to chat and to build a better relationship.
- Invite the person for lunch or dinner at your house, ideally with the family. Lively meals are also great opportunities to talk and to enjoy the good things in life.
- Encourage the person to join or sign up for various activities: bridge, bingo, arts and crafts, outings with a seniors’ club, dancing, etc. If necessary, drive him or her; you and the other members of your family can even take turns playing chauffeur.
Combatting loneliness means preventing exclusion, poverty, loss of autonomy, and psychological or emotional distress. Everyone must do his or her part to contribute to the well-being of our senior citizens and implement measures allowing them to conquer loneliness and isolation. Our elderly members are a national and familial treasure, so it is our duty to take care of them. As the Beatles famously sang: “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”