As COVID-19 rates continue to surge, many isolated seniors are facing a second epidemic: loneliness. Because so many seniors live alone, the elderly in the United States have been disproportionately impacted by loneliness for decades, but the pandemic has only made this problem worse.
It hurts to think of our parents or grandparents as lonely – especially when we aren’t able to visit with them the way we used to. Still, this is something we must acknowledge. The hard truth is that the number of seniors in isolation continues to rise. And loneliness is not merely undesired. It can actually have devastating effects on health. That’s why it’s so important that we can identify signs of loneliness in our loved ones and get them the help they need.
Loneliness, by the way, isn’t just a problem for seniors. Many family members who step into the role of caregiver will experience loneliness. Often, this major life change happens quickly and unexpectedly. The balance between personal life and caregiver life can be easily blurred, or you may not feel you have any balance at all. In this episode, we’ll go over ways to combat loneliness for seniors and caregivers alike.
There is hope – even during a pandemic. But to find it, we need to be informed.
Loneliness in seniors is getting worse. AARP recently reported that “millions of older adults across the country struggle with feelings of loneliness, isolation, and a lack of regular companionship.” These high numbers only seem to be growing. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 27% of adults over the age of 60 live by themselves. At the same time, an AARP survey by the University of Michigan found that 1 in 4 people complain of feeling isolated from time to time, while 1 in 3 say they “lack regular companionship.”
For those who only socialized once a week or less, loneliness was reported in higher numbers. On the other hand, seniors who said that they are socially active several times a week were far less likely to report feeling isolated.
There are many reasons for seniors to feel especially lonely. As their independence dwindles, so do their options. If they have trouble moving, it can feel too difficult to get to social events, and it may even be impossible to leave the house. At the same time, a lack of mobility can damage a person’s dignity. It’s common for an older adult to isolate himself, simply because he doesn’t want friends or family to witness his new struggles.
When a senior can no longer drive, isolation is probable. Driving goes hand in hand with freedom – and without access to a car, attending social events and leaving the house is far more difficult. If your loved one is no longer driving, make sure to offer her rides or find another solution to help her leave the house and keep her world more open.
The elderly may also feel more alone if they have no family in the area and the health of their friends is declining. The sad reality is that seniors have to face the loss of friends and even spouses far more often. If visiting with friends is simply not an option, due to poor health, and family can only visit once a month – feelings of loneliness are pretty much inevitable.
The pandemic has only made this harder. As seniors are urged to stay at home, they are facing limited interactions with friends or family – if they have any at all. The University of Michigan poll found that a staggering 56% of elderly people reported feeling isolated in June of 2020. In a December 2020 survey by A Place For Mom, “62% of adult children caring for their parents or elderly relatives say their loved one has suffered physically or mentally from isolation during the pandemic.” Clearly, the pandemic has paved the way for an epidemic of loneliness.