Loneliness is infectious.
You’ve been cooped up in your home for a week now and you are beginning to feel like a caged animal.
You are bored, and you are feeling lonely. You desperately need to get out, even just for tonight, to have a change of scenery, to breathe fresh air, to stretch your legs and eat food not out of your ref.
You need to talk to someone. You picked up the phone and dialed Mary. After a few seconds of wait, an answering machine, not Mary, came on line. Then you called Bob. He was home alright, but his asthma is acting up and couldn’t go out. Next is Peter. Sadly, Peter too, couldn’t go out because his arthritis won’t allow him to walk a certain distance.
Dejected, you put the phone back in the cradle and sank deeply unto your sofa and moped.
Have you ever experience situations like this? To have nobody to talk to when you need it the most? I have, in more occasions I can count. It very despairing; it puts a gloom over your entire being, you entertain thoughts of suicide.
Such is what loneliness can do to you. And if you allow it to get hold of your life, it can lead to very serious consequences especially for old people like you and I.
Factors causing Loneliness among Seniors:
Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that 11 million, or 28% of people aged over 65 and older, live alone. .
While this does not necessarily mean they are all lonely, but it is a predisposing factor.
Another is lack or fewer family members to provide company and care because they are either childless or the children have moved away, divorced, separated or widowed.
The third factor is lack of social engagement or participation in senior activities. Even in Canada where 80% of seniors frequently participate in one or several social activities, there are still a huge number of elderly people who don’t.
This is exacerbated by the fact that when people get old, their social contacts decrease due to medical, relocation/separation, or death reasons.
Regardless of reason, loneliness can wreak tremendous and harmful consequences on its unwilling victims.
Unhealthy consequences of Loneliness:
Loneliness is not just of being alone or isolated from the mainstream. It is something more of a psychological disassociation or detachment from the lively, vibrant and exciting world out there.
You can be in a group and still feel isolated and lonely, or be alone yet happy. It is not a disease, but chronic loneliness can lead to:
1. Physical health problems:
Seniors without any social interaction don’t have the motivation to go out and engage in physical activity or community involvement. They are often contented living a sedentary lifestyle, i.e., watching too much TV, lying in bed too long, or sit on the porch and rock the world away.
Ultimately this willing embrace of loneliness will result to physical deterioration causing various medical conditions.
2. Mental health problems:
We are meant to be a social species and when that need is not met our brains react in unhealthy ways.
Dr. John Cacciopo, neurologist and psychologist at the University of Chicago, has proven, through 30 years of study, that loneliness causes rapid decline of cognitive functions.
Prolonged and chronic loneliness increases the risk or depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.
Elderly people having chronic loneliness also tend to become more pessimistic about the future, according to a study done by the NCA (National Council for Aging). They think that their lives are not going to get any better 5 to 10 years down the road.
With a negative mindset, lonely seniors tend to develop unhealthy habits like skipping meals, or eat unhealthy foods, sleep less, smoke, drink alcohol and stay away from physical activity.
And these two always come together – like salt and pepper. Physical health problems invariably affect the mind, and mental health problems affect the body.
Together they may cause the third consequence…
3. Untimely death:
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences carries a 2012 study showing that social isolation and loneliness lead to a higher risk of mortality among adults 52 yrs old and above.
Apparently lonely seniors have higher cases of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and many other illnesses that could lead to untimely death.
And this is quite perplexing, if not tragic, because loneliness is easy to lick and does not cost anything but a firm resolve to get more connected with the outside world.
Easy ways to keep loneliness away:
Nothing or nobody can make you feel lonely unless you want to. In other words, it is a choice you brought upon yourself, not by any outside factors. To beat it, therefore, means you beat yourself.
Several times after my wife died, I checked into emergency rooms for difficulty-in-breathing problems. To my disbelief, each time, all my vital signs were normal. To avoid further embarrassment, I resolved never to entertain thoughts of loneliness, or any of its relatives like self-pity, regret, feeling sorry for myself, or self doubt.
Now I am still a loner, but seldom lonely. I relish being alone as I can think more. Unwanted company intrudes into my “thinking time.”
But if my act is difficult for you to follow, you can:
1. Do volunteer work:
Check your church, shelter for the homeless, or any club or organization in your locality that can use an extra pair of hands, or a healthy mind, to help others.
Volunteering is an excellent way of taking your mind off yourself, and it gives you deep feelings of satisfaction.
2. Enroll into a class:
Check your local college or university for short courses that interest you. It is never too late to learn a new skill set. It might even give you an opportunity to earn additional income.
If you find commuting or driving a problem, then do it online. All the large universities now offer off-campus, or correspondence courses.
3. Develop and interest:
Take a hobby like carpentry, photography, landscaping, knitting, and so on. The Internet has an endless list of hobbies for seniors.
Or you can get back on a hobby you had in your younger days.
4. Get physical:
Nothing beats an early morning exercise to set my day.
You need not go to the gym. You can do brisk walking, calisthenics or stretching in your yard, or around your neighborhood. And you don’t need expensive apparel, or signature pair of jogging shoes, either. You can do it in your pajamas and slippers if you want to.
The other day I had a reunion with my some of my co-workers after more than 20 years ago. The first thing my former boss said when he saw me was, “You look good!”
My short reply was, “Of course. I look good because I want to look good.”
But it is not that easy. Nothing comes without a price. You have to give up something to gain something, a tit for tat. It is more difficult when you are old with very few to give, fewer still to receive.
I am a live-alone widower with both my children living their own lives. Loneliness stares at me in the face each day. My day is always a choice between standing up to it, or stand it down and I know the consequences of each. So far I have done well.
You, too, can.