“But there are other words for privacy and
independence. They are isolation and loneliness.”
– Megan Whalen Turner, The King of Attolia
Being alone does not necessarily herald loneliness,
and living with someone may not stave it off. However, being
alone can lend itself to un-diagnosed loneliness and its partner, depression.
Especially right now, people are spending more time isolated from others than ever before. Many of us, however, live with family members and perhaps communicate with colleagues via video, text, and email. This is not necessarily the case for our seniors.
It is important to note that your loved one can be lonely even when they have people coming and going in their life each day. And with short-term memory issues, their perception of how often they see you or other loved ones can be altered so that they are lonely even moments after you’ve left.
TYPES OF LONELINESS
There are essentially three types of loneliness. Understanding which
one is affecting your loved one will go a long way towards knowing
how to help.
As our seniors age, they naturally drift apart from social circles they once had. Perhaps they’ve been moved to be closer to you, leaving behind friends and activities. This is a type of loneliness that occurs when you don’t feel
a sense of belonging to a group. Even if your parents are still together, there is a need for a wider social circle. Research senior activities in your area, even virtual calls, that might connect them with people outside of their home.
Emotional loneliness can hit those who have lost a partner and feel like they don’t fit into their social circle where others still have their spouses or live-in children. It is a feeling of lack of relationship or attachment. Often it can be felt the worst when your senior wants someone to talk to each day.
It can be helpful to reconnect them with same-generation relatives that they might have lost touch with. Even emails and text exchanges can go a long way towards restoring their sense of self.
This is the most intangible of the types. It is generally more of a feeling of not knowing your place in the universe that most of us experience at one time or another. It typically shows its head in times of change when we don’t know what to expect or don’t realize that others are sharing the same
life experience. Encourage your loved one to share their thoughts and feelings about aging or set them up with others in their age or medical group.
Chronic Loneliness Risks
Chronic loneliness can lead to:
• Sleep disorders
• Type 2 diabetes
• Heart disease
• High blood pressure
• Mental health and emotional
• Substance abuse
Social isolation increases the risk
of early death by 50–84%! The
stress of loneliness affects immune
system functioning and increases
inflammation, precursors to countless
more complex medical issues.