A record number of our senior citizens are living alone and with baby boomers joining the ranks, these statistics will continue to grow. According to the Institute on Aging, nearly one-third of our older adults live alone and older women are twice as likely than men to live by themselves.
The question remains, is it healthy for senior citizens to live alone? Research shows isolation and loneliness can cause mental and physical health challenges, risking possible damage to their overall well being. A Chicago Tribune article reported that an additional 19 million boomers will be entering the isolation market in the future.
A recent article in Forbes reported that after physicians and researchers examined patients and data, their conclusions were concerning. They believe that a lonely person is significantly more likely to suffer an early death.
A study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science found loneliness increased the risk of death by an alarming 26%. The report also showed those lacking a social connection was even more devastating to a persons overall health than feeling lonely. Feeling socially connected is very important for our senior citizens and shouldn't be overlooked. Several studies show that those lacking a social connection have a greater detriment to their health than those suffering from obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. In our fast paced world, we believe the time has come where we all may need to pitch in and keep a close eye on our older Americans. By just spending a few minutes a day having conversations with our senior citizens can go a long way in helping improve the quality of life.
Our research tells us there aren't any easy solutions to this sad public health issue although Everyday Health offers 12 excellent tips by Dr. Louis Hawkley on how to fight loneliness. Most of these require reengaging with friends and maybe giving yourself a little push to get you back in the game of life.
- Make an Action Plan-Make a point of meeting people with similar interests. By getting involved and volunteering are proven ways to meet kindred spirits.
- Do Something, Anything-We recently met an 85 year old central Florida resident, Betty Helinski who told us the most important thing seniors can do is to get out and be active. Betty said, “Don't sit around and be a bump on a log, you have to get out and move it if you want to stay healthy.”
- Explore Your Faith-There are few things in life that are proven and tested and this is one of them to protect against loneliness. People who have a connection to their God or a higher power do well.
- Bond With a Dog-Pets are great protectors against loneliness. If you are unable to care for a dog, find a way to help nurture one by volunteering at a local shelter. Dogs also help provide security. Recently, NBC News reported an incident involving Josh Hilsenrath, an 87 year old Florida resident fell and was down on the floor bleeding for 4 hours. His dog Buddy escaped the house and went to get help at a neighbor's house that ultimately saved his life.
- Have Realistic Standards - Determine whether your standards are too high making it difficult to connect with others. Sometimes it makes it a challenge when you expect too much from new friendships or relying on others too often.
- Think Beyond Yourself - Oftentimes we focus too much on ourselves. By finding groups to join and helping others takes the focus off ourselves.
- Reach Out to a Lonely Person - Befriending someone lonely typically gives you an emotional boost. We have a responsibility in our communities to help others who are hurting. By doing so, it can help you too.
- Call, Don't Post - Social media relationships are good, but people do much better with face to face visits or phone conversations.
- Make Time for Relationships - No question, relationships take time and effort. In this information age, everyone is busy, time must be devoted to building healthy relationships. You get out of relationships what you put into them. Nobody on their death bed ever says, "I wish I would have worked longer hours".
- Talk to a Friend or a Trusted Adviser - It normally pays dividends to reach out to a family member or friend to ask for advice. They may have ideas about meeting friends.
- Meditate - Your thought process may be holding you back from meeting new people. By developing a meditation practice you will improve your thinking.
- Explore Therapy - If you can't shake significant feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression, you may want to consider a mental health professional.
Always keep in mind, we can make strides and improvements to loneliness if we put forth the effort. Many issues are different, but it appears if we focus on improving our negative thinking that created the problem at the beginning, we can make serious change for the better.