When Independent Living Becomes Loneliness – Helping Seniors Cope

Many of us try to spend as much time as we can with our senior loved ones who are aging in place in their own homes.

We try to do our best to support them with whatever they may need.

What happens if they’ve lost their spouse and are now alone in that beloved home – – and you can’t be with them every day to ease their loneliness?

What if you lived at a long distance and couldn’t get there more than twice a year, if that?

What if these seniors who now find themselves alone never had (or have lost) children and therefore may be devoid of family caregivers who can give them the emotional support they need?

What if?

Senior Loneliness

The Administration on Aging reports there were almost 11.3 million seniors who lived alone in 2010. The number of those over age 75 who lived alone was greater still and of those adults 100 and older a third lived alone. Imagine that!

We are pretty sure that those numbers will be higher if counted today.

We know that our seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible. Unfortunately for some, however, they stay in their homes longer than might be safe or healthy for them.

Being alone has negative consequences for many seniors.

Loneliness can result in depression and isolation which has been shown to lead to physical problems, loss of mobility and thus independence.

Being alone can ultimately lead to having to move to a senior living facility.

Fears of Seniors Who Live Alone

Seniors who are alone due to a loss of spouse, partner, close friend or nearby caregiver often report that one of their fears is that they will lose their independence. Unfortunately, this is a real possibility for some seniors.

Even though seniors living alone have friends they see from time to time, church to attend weekly with friends there, people they can call upon if they get lonely, like long distance caregivers, tasks to complete (like housework or gardening) that provide a temporary diversion, and even loving pets to care for daily, they continue to report that they feel alone.

Some who continue to grieve for their lost loved one may face depression in addition to loneliness.

Many say that it takes time to begin to remember the good times more than the bad times. Things are a little easier when they can get to that point.

Then come the holidays – –  when memories of family time, shared memories and a renewal of grief enter the minds of our senior loved ones.

Seniors can get companionship from a pet or even a talking book but they probably still prefer to be among friends or family. They may feel lonely even when not alone because they are missing the way things used to be.

Family caregivers can often feel sad that they can’t be with their senior loved one as often as they might be needed to help overcome their loneliness.

Sometimes we just can’t do it all – – or fill all the holes in their lives.

Helping Them Deal with Loneliness

There are some things that we can do with and for our senior loved ones to help them stay engaged and relieve their loneliness. Some are easy and some take more of a commitment but they are all doable for many.

  1. Sign them up to join the senior center or a class, such as yoga or Tai Chi. Silver Sneakers is a group that meets throughout the country that provides seniors with a safe way to be physically and socially active. Let them pick what they would like to do. Maybe they would like to take a class at the local school to learn more about the computer, how to take photos or make a quilt. Help them find a book club or other club that sparks their interest like a garden club, bridge club or church group.
  2. Set up visits with family, friends and other organizations so that they have regular visitors. Be the coordinator so that people visit without overlap.
  3. Register them for Meals on Wheels, an organization that provides not only meals but a person who will come and check in with them on a routine basis.
  4. Enlist your friends and family to send a card, letter, or whatever communication they enjoy to your senior. Make a yearly calendar and give everyone their assigned dates. We did this with our grandfather after our grandmother passed. He received well wishes, funny notes and other goodies regularly from all around the country. He always had something to look forward to when he took the stroll to get his mail. Be sure everyone follows through as assigned.
  5. Help your senior loved one schedule their week: Sunday – church; Monday – grocery shopping and errands; Tuesday – library; Wednesday – visit friends or volunteer; and so forth. Each day of the week will hold something special for them, keep them engaged with the community, and give them a reason to get going each morning. It’s valuable to have something to which they can look forward on a daily basis – – and no excuses for isolating themselves when others are depending on them.
  6. Do they need a pet or a plant that requires their loving care? Even a fish or a bird can keep them mentally engaged with something that needs them but doesn’t require too much care. A window garden with some fun plants that can liven up the view or plants with an aroma like sage or lavender to provide some familiar scents.
  7. Connect them with technology so they can contact people they know via Facebook, send and receive texts and emails, learn something new and join chats for support. Be sure they have security measures in place and understand safety when giving out personal information, we all need a reminder about that!
  8. If they don’t have transportation, help them find ways to get around, such as public transit or senior services. Churches can connect members with rides to weekly services for seniors. When they have a way to get there they can attend church, go to events, get to the park and even volunteer for an organization that they feel espouses their beliefs. Getting out will help them stay mentally engaged and give them a sense of purpose.

These are just a few ideas to help you keep your senior from isolating in loneliness. Remember that sorrow can be consuming and, especially for our senior  loved ones, can lead to negative medical consequences.

Just a few fun ideas and a consistent approach can keep sadness from becoming overwhelming.

If you don’t have a senior nearby, reach out to other aging seniors and neighbors who are alone in your area not just during the holidays but all year long. Assist them with small comforts. You can’t be with them every day or take away all their sorrow – – but you can help.

3 thoughts on “When Independent Living Becomes Loneliness – Helping Seniors Cope”

  1. A wonderful article and one that family members should take seriously. Whether family realizes it or not their contact with a senior is the most significant.
    Also wanted to mention that there are more non-profits that have many services like free rides, someone to come in to visit, shopping…

  2. Sad, but if the senior chooses to live alone instead of considering viable options that would put them in a social environment, aren’t they responsible for their loneliness? Isn’t it kind of abusive to expect family or caregivers to fill the loneliness void when it is caused solely by the senior’s choices? I won’t be guilted into finding entertainment and friends for my elderly mother. If she treated her family nicely, she wouldn’t be alone. I guess every situation is unique, or is it? Some seniors think their material things are more important than their safety or health? I don’t know. It’s frustrating to weigh the options. The only think I know for sure is that I won’t similarly burden my children with my financial needs or loneliness or housework. I’ll be responsible and act responsibly and when I can no longer take care of myself, I’ll seek homecare or nursing care or whatever to make life easier.

    • Thanks for your comments Clara. It is true, each family and senior need to navigate the potential issues that arise now and in the future including socialization and boredom with their living arrangements. It is a good conversation for everyone to have so that expectations are clear – help, no help, facility or home with outside help. We appreciate your viewpoint.

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