Many people attribute chronic diseases (such as diabetes, heart disease, etc.) to be the leading causes of health decline; but did you know that loneliness in seniors has similar, if not worse, effects on one’s health? A recent study, conducted by Richard Lang, MD, chair of preventive medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, noted that, “loneliness and social isolation are as much a threat to your health as obesity.” (Everyday Health)
In 2010, the U.S. census found that 28% of adults 65+ lived alone. While it’s not fair to assume that all seniors who live alone are lonely, sometimes living alone can lead to social isolation and loneliness, which is proven to have negative effects on health, such as:
- Higher rates of dementia
- Development of long-term illnesses
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of death
How to Manage Loneliness in Seniors
Many older adults are not aware of resources or activities that are designed specifically for them to combat loneliness in their daily lives. From my perspective, loneliness is something that should be treated as a physical, mental and spiritual concern. At Iora, we believe that when you spend the time to form real relationships with patients you can help them live happier and healthier lives. With relationships in mind, here are some ways to manage loneliness in seniors:
The benefits of volunteering go beyond just getting out of the house and socializing (although those are both important parts of reducing loneliness). Volunteering is a great way to build relationships with people of all ages while doing something good for your community. The mental health benefits of volunteering were shown in a study that noted “older adults found that participation in community service was more strongly correlated with life satisfaction for retirees than for those individuals who continued to work for pay.” There are lots of places to find volunteer opportunities; check out your local newspaper, ask a friend/family member/neighbor for recommendations, or search online for opportunities in your area. A good search to try is: “volunteer opportunities near me.”
Take up a new hobby
Trying something new can be fun and exciting. A lot of older adults enjoy trying things like gardening, knitting, learning an instrument or arts and crafts. Hobbies often allow for socializing outside the house to meet like-minded folks who enjoy doing the things you might enjoy. At Iora we could always use some new artwork displayed or musicians playing in our reception areas. If you would like Iora to set up lessons based on your interest in learning a new hobby, let your care team know and we’ll see how we can help.
Join a gym
Regular exercise, within reason based on your health needs and goals, can be helpful in reducing feelings of social isolation. Gyms allow for socialization with other people who like to exercise, exercising releases endorphins (hormones that are secreted during/after exercise that cause happiness), and exercise can lead to improved physical health overall.
Attend a class or workshop
There are numerous classes and workshops offered for free that are tailored to the needs of older adults. Classes range from support groups, with people who are looking to chat about their lives, to more active classes, like exercising or aerobics. To learn more about the resources in your area, reach out to a friend, family member, community leader or even your doctor. They can likely recommend some options that would work with your schedule and interests. We also offer free fitness classes and workshops, so find a local practice near you and request a class calendar!
Get involved in the Iora Primary Care community
In our community of seniors, there is always someone looking to learn or teach. Becoming a part of the Iora community might mean teaching a class on knitting, helping someone like you who is struggling with diabetes or even meeting to play some games or attend a class at your practice or elsewhere. You might even make a new friend, like these two Iora patients.
Call a helpline for support and a listening ear
The Institute of Aging’s 24-hour toll free friendship line is a great resource to chat through your feelings and concerns around loneliness. Give them a call today at 800-971-0016.
Remember that you are never alone
At Iora Primary Care, we offer free onsite classes and/or time with our Behavioral Health Specialist and Health Coaches. Our patients (65+) have all the time they need with professionals who listen, care and can address their health needs, concerns and goals. Find the closest Iora Primary Care practice and don’t hesitate to reach out.