Helping Relieve Loneliness in the Elderly

Being lonely is a signal that an essential need isn’t being met, and people are motivated to do something to correct it. They feel that others aren’t meeting their expectations. The intensity of loneliness decreases from early adulthood through middle age. A fraction of seniors feel lonely as they age. Only 30 percent of older adults feel lonely often. The remainder have enough interactions with other people to fulfill their social and emotional needs.

Loneliness has been linked to increased stress levels, poor immune systems, inflammation in the body, high blood pressure, depression, and early death in older adults. A recent study found that loneliness comes and goes, like any other mood, and is not permanent. Examining about 2,200 Americans from age 57 to 85 found that of the third that felt lonely, five years later, 40 percent had recovered from their loneliness.

Spending time with other people and removing stress and disturbances in family relationships helps older adults recover from loneliness. Support from family members and fewer physical problems that interfere with their independence are factors that keep seniors from becoming lonely. Loneliness isn’t the same as physical isolation, lacking contact with other people. It is the quality of relationships that matter, not the quantity.

There are two ways to help with loneliness. When we treat people negatively, they will withdraw from us, reinforcing our perception that we are not valued. Changing our perception, people can examine the reasons for their thoughts. An intervention group to treat loneliness, called LISTEN, helps lonely people look into their expectations of relationships, needs, thought patterns, and behaviors while telling their stories and listening to others.

Investing in relationships with family and friends is also important. It is time to get past old grudges or grievances and deal with difficulties that are disrupting relationships. Expanding your relationships to others outside your immediate circle is a good idea.

The goal is to help people become aware of their social needs, expectations, and improve the quality of existing relationships and develop new ones.

Graham, Judith. “Like Hunger Or Thirst, Loneliness In Seniors Can Be Eased.” News. Kaiser Health News, 18 May 2017. Web. 18 May 2017.

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