Loneliness among seniors is no joke.
According to AARP’s Loneliness Study, which surveyed older adults aged 45+:
- Over 35% of older adults are lonely
- Loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health
The report also found that lonely people are less likely to be involved in social events, which too can mean poorer health, since being social is so important for your mental, physical and emotional well-being.
And even more consequences of loneliness:
- 45% increase in the risk of death (USCF)
- 59% greater risk of mental and physical decline (USCF)
- A decline in your ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) (USCF)
- Development of brain biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s (NCBI)
- It can be contagious (UChicago)
The good news is being aware of your community involvement level (whether family, friends, or neighbors, or beyond) can help you focus on developing good daily habits so that you can better age in place… healthy, active, and happy.
That’s why I’ve gathered these simple tactics for you to try. There are so many helpful ideas that I broke this topic up into two parts.
Here are the first nine tactics for you to get started in fighting loneliness:
Fighting Loneliness Tactic #1: Acknowledgment
Just like depression or any other ailment that feels terrible, you’d be surprised at the number of people who go on in denial without admitting to their feelings of loneliness.
Acknowledging bouts of loneliness and understanding that it’s a feeling not a fact can help you move past it.
Also, understanding the difference between isolation and loneliness can help you tackle the source of your feelings of loneliness. Here’s a quick list of the differences between the two to help your self-awareness level:
This can also help you realize many things are in your control and that you can change your behavior and experiences to help relieve some of your feelings from both loneliness and isolation.
Fighting Loneliness Tactic #2: Make a plan to tackle your habits
After acknowledging your bouts of loneliness and understanding how susceptible you can be to isolation, you can more clearly plan and act toward improving your habits. Making an intentional plan is a huge step toward making any progress.
So from the following tips, make it a point to intentionally work on implementing some of them.
Tip: Start off simple and tackle one or two at a time until you’ve mastered it and it becomes a second nature new habit. Then go back and take on another one.
The main takeaway is to dedicate time and make a commitment to yourself. By incrementally making micro-changes each day, your long-term results will be more dramatic and successful.
Fighting Loneliness Tactic #3: Focus on others
Whether new or old, your relationships with people can travel so much further if they feel supported and heard. So rather than focus on your own feelings or insecurities, focus your attention on the other person.
This tactic is two-pronged:
- It’ll relieve you pressure from focusing on your own imperfections or negative self-talk that you tell yourself
- It’ll make others feel appreciated which will likely make them more willing to open up
Fighting Loneliness Tactic #4: Be curious
This goes hand in hand with focusing on others. While you’re putting the attention on those around you, try approaching your conversations with curiosity about their life.
Being inquisitive can have such a large impact on the way your conversations go.
Even if you don’t agree with something, coming from a curious place can be way less offensive than coming from a place of judgment or making people feel like they need to explain themselves.
Fighting Loneliness Tactic #5: Be kind
Being kind and approachable can help you with your first impressions when meeting new people. And of course, if you’re engaging with people you already know, kindness also goes a long way.
According to Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen, your facial expression is everything and can be read at the most micro level… which means you can even practice kindness with non-verbal communication.
If you’re coming from a good place it’s likely that people, even strangers, will be receptive.
And if they’re not, and you’re being a kind human, it’s on them. They may have some unresolved issues and you won’t want to involve yourself with that type of relationship anyway, which brings us to the next tactic.
Fighting Loneliness Tactic #6: Prioritize people who share your core values
Associating with people whose lifestyle and interests match up with your own can be so powerful. The power of association is so strong and we all become who we spend most of our time with, so make it count.
Our circle of influence is everything. Check out these fun facts:
- If you spend time with smokers, you’re more likely to smoke.
- If your close friend is obese, you’re 57% more likely to gain weight.
- If your friend gets a divorce, your chance of getting a divorce goes up by 75%
These types of relationships will not only help you to achieve your own life goals, but they’ll also last much longer and create tighter bonds.
Fighting Loneliness Tactic #7: Use technology to stay connected
As you grow older your social circle of family and friends is likely to spread out or dwindle. One way to supplement your in-person contact is to maintain your long-distance relationships using technology.
There’s a bunch of options here in this digital age: online chat, online video chat, video on your phone, group chats, social media messengers, email, etc.
While it can be challenging to learn a new digital platform, once you get the hang of it, the pretty obvious advantages to using technology are:
- It’s convenient – you can do this remotely and fit it nicely into your schedule
- It’s quick – you don’t need to work in the commute time and can simply log on and off
- It’s easily accessible – most tech-based communication channels are free or included with other bills you’re already paying (phone and internet)
Caveat: Be aware that technology can also be isolating. The AARP study found that although the internet makes it easier to share personal information, 13% of lonely respondents felt they have fewer deep connections when using the internet to keep in touch with people compared to 6% of the non-lonely.
Tip: Use technology to bolster and deepen a real-life relationship rather than use technology as the foundation of your connection. When you focus on the depth of your relationship and also use other means to maintain your connection, technology can become less of a crutch and less of a way to hide parts of yourself.
Fighting Loneliness Tactic #8: Get a roommate
Living alone is tough, so consider getting a roommate.
Your roommate doesn’t have to be your perfect best friend, but simply having another human living with you in your quarters can keep you from developing isolating tendencies. Plus, it can be much safer for you in the case of a mishap or medical emergency.
I’ve seen several creative solutions pop up in this realm lately, including some shared housing and intergenerational living options. Here are a few resources and examples for you to check out as you explore the option in your local region:
- Homeshare International – with global programs in 16 countries, they enable two people, often between two generations, to share their housing lives for a mutual benefit
- National Shared Housing – with a program directory based on location, this is a resource that provides support, education and training for existing home sharing programs
- Cohousing – this US-based cohousing association has a senior cohousing directory of in-process and completed communities to review
Friendly reminder: Roommates are not your in-home care service. Although it may be tempting to cross that boundary, roommates are paying tenants who are sharing your housing with you. They’re not paid to help you with your in-home care needs on a regular ongoing basis.
Fighting Loneliness Tactic #9: Get a pet
Even fuzzy or non-fuzzy animal roommates can help with battling loneliness and isolation. I’m not suggesting you use your pets as a crutch and aim for the crazy-cat-lady type, but interacting with a loving pet can be helpful.
There are quite a few health benefits for seniors who own a pet. To name a few, pets can:
- Help reduce stress – pets can provide comfort by actually producing a chemical reaction in your brain that lowers levels of cortisol and increase levels of serotonin
- Increase social interaction – all those pet-related errands, like going to the vet, groomer, pet store and walks, will keep you engaged in the community and help you meet other pet owners
- Increase your physical activity – by exercising your pet and going on walks, you too will have a healthy exercise routine
- Lower blood pressure – the American Heart Association conducted studies that show pet owners have lower blood pressure and smaller increases in heart rate in response to stress
- Reduce depression – pets can give you a sense of meaning and purpose and fill your need to be needed
- Lessen loneliness – pets offer companionship so you’re not physically alone all day
- Offer security – some pets can help ward off strangers and protect you from being robbed
Fight Loneliness in Older Adulthood
So there you have nine simple tactics that you can consider implementing today.
We’ll cover more tactics in Part II of fighting loneliness so you’re not overwhelmed with info and ideas to try. My mantra tip is to tackle your goals one micro-step at a time.
This issue is so important and by taking preventative action you can help avoid the detrimental effects of loneliness and social isolation.
Which ideas resonate with you? Which tactics can you easily work into your life right now?