Tips for Seniors to Fight Loneliness & Connect with Others

Tips for Seniors to Fight Loneliness & Connect with Others

There are many reasons why loneliness increases as we get older. Our golden years can bring many changes. The kids are grown and may move away, creating families of their own, and they may often be a little too busy to spend the same kind of time with mom and dad that they used to. Retirement often means leaving a small community of fellow workers that you were accustomed to interacting with on a daily basis. You might experience the sad passing of family members, colleagues, friends, or even a spouse.

All of these things can leave even the most positive, happy senior feeling lonely.

Feeling lonely can affect not only your mental health, but your physical health as well. According to the National Institute on Aging, loneliness in seniors is closely associated with developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and cognitive decline – and if you already have these conditions, loneliness might make them worse.1

This is why, if you are feeling the effects of loneliness, it’s a good idea to choose a senior button alarm that suits your lifestyle. A medical alert can keep seniors safer in your day-to-day life and improve mental health by knowing that a live person is standing by 24/7 to assist you if needed.

A study review published in BMC Public Health found that 50% of seniors over the age of 60 are at risk for social isolation and a third of seniors will experience loneliness at some point in their later years.2 And while anyone of any age can feel lonely from time to time, chronic loneliness seems to be more prevalent among seniors.

Loneliness can be a crushing feeling. That feeling can be especially worrisome if you are lonely due to recent upheavals, such as the death of a spouse or moving away from your home into an assisted living facility. But it is important to remember that loneliness doesn’t have to be your new normal. There are many ways to alleviate loneliness and become more connected to the people and the world around you.

Take Stock of Where You Are

To get to where you want to be, you first have to know where you’re starting. Think about the relationships you have right now. Do you have a strong connection with a family caregiver? Perhaps you are close to your siblings? If you are a churchgoer, there is a broad community you can interact with; the same is true if you volunteer somewhere. Consider your life right now and who is in your circle.

Then make a list of all those people. Don’t pick and choose who to put on the list – if they are a friend, acquaintance, or family member and you have the opportunity to talk with them, write them down. You can refine the list later but right now, you just want to get a firm picture of who is in your social circle.

But what if you find that you are surrounded by people but still feel alone? Though social isolation and loneliness often go hand-in-hand, that is not always the case; you can be socially isolated but not feel lonely, or you can be lonely while you are surrounded by people.

If you are one of the latter, don’t be hard on yourself – sometimes we become lonely because we miss or want certain things. For instance, someone who has lost their long-term spouse might be lonely no matter where they are, not because they are without companionship, but simply because they miss their spouse.

Nurture Your Relationships

That list of people in your life is a great place to begin nurturing relationships that can blossom into something closer and more fulfilling. Which of the people on that list are promising for becoming closer friends?

Maybe someone in your extended family would like more of your time. Perhaps the person you keep running into in the neighborhood would be open to a cup of coffee and more conversation. What about friends you haven’t talked to in a while? It might be time to rekindle that friendship.

Reaching out can be tough, especially at the very start. What do you say? How do you address someone when you haven’t talked in a while?

Consider something like this: “I’ve always enjoyed your company and would love to get together. Would you be available to meet for lunch this week?”

Find New Pathways to Friendship

What if you made a list of people you know and it is sparse? That’s okay. It just means that your first order of business is going where the people are!

Now is the time to get involved in your community. Go for a walk and say hello to your neighbors. Attend any organized activities, like an ice cream social or a neighborhood barbecue. Find a way to volunteer and chat with those who volunteer alongside you. Invite someone over for tea.

Reach out to old friends via text, email, or phone. Ask them if they would like to get together again. Invite extended family members to do something fun, like going to an art exhibit or a museum.

Head to your local senior center and see what they have available. You can find everything from coffee meet-ups to pickleball tournaments to outings to the latest movies. Most senior centers have a website where you can check out their offerings, but you can also go to the center itself and speak to someone at the front desk to obtain a monthly calendar.

What if you are truly isolated? You can still find new friends. Online communities are fantastic ways to connect with others who share your hobbies and interests. Internet technology can also allow you to stay in touch with the people you love who might be all the way across the world! Messenger programs and video chat can work wonders to keep you connected.

Senior alert systems provide peace of mind. They allow you the assurance that if you suffer a fall, accident, or other emergency, you can get live help right away.

Reframe Your Thoughts

Loneliness can breed negativity, and that can eventually take a toll on your mental health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are strong links between negative thinking and depression, chronic worry, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.3 Negative thinking can also make you feel as though you aren’t worthy of friendship, which is certainly not true.

Changing that negative way of thinking can eliminate barriers to becoming more active in the community and making new friends. But how do you do that?

A good way to begin is by reframing your thoughts. Reframing means that when a negative thought enters your head, you immediately look for a counterpoint to it. Here are some examples:

·        When you find yourself angry with a traffic snarl, remind yourself that you’re fortunate to have a reliable car that can get you from point A to point B.

·        If you get annoyed when your pet makes a mess, remind yourself of the unconditional love that pet gives you.

·        If you worry about that gray hair you see in the mirror, remind yourself that you get time to explore this beautiful world.

It might be hard to adopt that “attitude of gratitude” at first. That’s because negative thoughts tend to set up shop in your head and it can be tough to evict them. But every little thought you can reframe can eventually make a difference in your bigger picture.

How does this help you with making friends? Consider the example of going to outings sponsored by your local senior center. Your initial thoughts might be negative. “I’m going to be an outcast. No one will talk to me. Lots of people already have their friendships established and I would be a third wheel.”

Reframe that like this: “I’m not the only one taking a leap. Lots of people there will be looking for someone to talk to. They will be a little nervous too! Even established friends welcome newcomers. What do I have to lose?”

And if you’re still nervous, here’s a tip: Look for conversation starters. For instance, wearing a medical alert necklace invites others to ask you questions about it. Even wearing a shirt with a funny or profound saying can be enough to strike up a great conversation. And then things grow from there!

Reach Out for Help

If you are feeling loneliness that just won’t seem to abate no matter what you do, it’s time to talk to someone about how you are feeling. You can go the professional route and speak to a counselor, specifically one who focuses on seniors and the elderly. Your doctor can give you referrals to a good counselor or you can find a list of them through your insurance company.

You can also try talking with someone online, such as through AARP’s Friendly Voice helpline. By calling 1-888-281-0145, you can get a call back from a volunteer who will be happy to say hello and chat with you about your day. You might be able to find the same sort of attention through online communities that specifically cater to senior adults.

Feeling lonely can make you want to hide away and not “bother” anyone. But that only perpetuates the cycle. So take a deep breath, read back through these tips, and start reaching out today. You’ll be glad you did.