Temporary loneliness affects everyone at some point in their life, but when loneliness and isolation become a way of life, it can have devastating consequences on a person’s mental and physical health. The modern world is such a busy place, people are living further apart, and technology dominates almost every aspect of our lives, but for older people, the loss of human connection can be even more severe.
When we retire from the world of work, we can lose a sense of structure, purpose, and a big chunk of our identity, as well as the social interaction employment typically provides. Whether through relocation, retirement, bereavement, and ill health, we tend to lose touch with friends over time. Many older people also face the loss of their romantic partner through divorce or bereavement. If we also develop our own health and/or mobility issues, we may find it more difficult to maintain a social life or make new friends.
Chronic loneliness can lead to depression and other mental health issues, which can make daily tasks and self-care difficult. This can make asking for help or making friends seem even more daunting and can also make us more susceptible to stress, a weakened immune system, and various physical health complications. To avoid getting stuck in this vicious circle, you may need to take some proactive steps to prevent loneliness in your old age.
How to Prevent Loneliness in Old Age
One of the most common misconceptions older people have is that they are the only person struggling with loneliness. In reality, almost everyone feels lonely from time to time, and older people are even more likely to regularly face the issue. You never know what someone is dealing with in private, and even people who appear to be upbeat and popular may be feeling very different on the inside. If you are feeling lonely or are worried about future loneliness becoming an issue, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Stick to a routine
Being retired can mean that older people struggle to establish a routine, but this can lead to a loss of motivation. It is best to try and wake at roughly the same time, stick to regular mealtimes, exercise, and go to bed at around the same time. In addition, studies have shown that we have far more productive weeks and higher levels of motivation if we achieve something on Monday. It could be as simple as arranging to meet a friend for coffee, preparing your meals for the week, attending an appointment, taking a class, or getting your household chores done. Starting your week with a sense of achievement and purpose will have a knock-on effect for the rest of the week.
Stay physically active
Exercise is key to both physical and mental health at any age, but it is particularly important in old age. Maintaining strength, agility, and stamina increases the likelihood that you will be able to live independently for as long as possible and take part in the activities and hobbies that make you happy. Exercise also triggers the release of mood-boosting endorphins and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. You do not need to put yourself through an exhausting workout every day, as simple exercises like walking, swimming, dancing, and stretching are effective. If you join a local exercise class, you might also meet new people who could become friends. Click here for senior workout ideas.
Move closer to family or into a senior community
Over time our social circle can become smaller due to retirement, friends moving away from the area, or passing away. If you are feeling isolated where you live, it might be worth making a move to a new area. Some people choose to move closer to their children and grandchildren, but you could also consider moving to an independent senior living community. There are plenty of senior living communities that enable older people to live independently, but still, socialize with people of a similar age and feel part of a community.
Learn a new skill or start a course
A great way to combat boredom is to start learning a new skill or take up a new hobby, as filling your time with an enjoyable activity can help alleviate some of your feelings of loneliness. However, an even better idea is to take up a hobby or start a course that involves meeting and working with other people as it may help you widen your social circle. Think of a skill or topic that you have always been interested in, find a local group, community center, or college where you can pursue it, and get ready to meet lots of new and interesting people.
Volunteer in the community
You might be retired, but that does not mean that you cannot still be useful to your community. There will be plenty of opportunities to get involved with a local organization, charity, or business on a voluntary basis. Being able to contribute to the community and put all the skills and knowledge you have gathered during your life to use is hugely rewarding and can boost your self-esteem. In addition, volunteering is a great way to meet people even if you struggle to make friends as you will be able to talk about your work and feel part of a team.
While it is important to maintain personal relationships with family and friends, which involve face-to-face meetings, the internet can help to alleviate loneliness in many ways. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are useful as they enable you to stay in touch with existing friends and family and connect with like-minded people regardless of location. Online forums and chat groups for older people can also help when you are in need of advice, emotional support, or just a casual chat. If you are interested in romance or meeting a new companion in your local area, there are online dating and companionship services which for people in specific age groups.