Updated: Mar 20
Because I am lonely sometimes, I have compassion for all of the lonely people in the world. While I have known some people who live in isolation, I never took the time to contemplate the pain inherent in being alone when one doesn’t wish to be. I was too involved with my own busy existence, full of the demands of family and career.
Throughout the pandemic, as a newly single empty-nester, I have spent more time alone than ever in my life. This experience has helped me to understand why loneliness is considered a health hazard. Often compared with the ill effects of smoking, loneliness is associated with seriously negative health impacts, especially for the aged lonely.
My mother's forced separation from her family during the COVID lockdown for over a year was devastating. I had resettled her into memory care in my community just before the doors were closed to visitors. We visited through the windows with headphones, attempted to use Skype and phone calls, but the absence of physical connection was heartbreaking. I cried many times as I walked to my car, leaving her behind that glass. She could not remember why I did not come in to visit with her, no matter how many different ways I tried to explain the pandemic and the rules that prevented it.
Her loneliness was evident and I am convinced that it led to depression and faster progression of dementia, as it did for so many aged people.
In 2018, AARP reported, "One in 3 U.S. adults 45 and older are lonely, according to a new survey by AARP Foundation. A study by AARP Research in 2010 found the same percentage of adult loneliness, but population growth since then means that about 5 million more adults in this age group are lonely.
“The increase in the number of lonely adults 45 and over is significant,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation. “Loneliness, especially as it relates to social isolation factors, has real consequences for people’s health. Studies show that isolation and loneliness are as bad for health as obesity or smoking. This survey’s results send a clear signal that we need to direct more attention and resources to this complex and growing public health issue.” https://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2020/isolation-survey-coronavirus.html
The National Institute on Aging offers tips for dealing with the seriously negative affects of loneliness and social isolation:
There are things you can do to help protect yourself or a loved one from the negative effects of loneliness and social isolation. First, it’s important to take care of yourself. Try exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep (7 to 9 hours), and pursuing activities you enjoy to help manage stress and stay as mentally and physically healthy as possible.
It’s also important to stay active and connect with others. People who engage in meaningful, productive activities they enjoy with others feel a sense of purpose and tend to live longer. For example, helping others through volunteering helps you feel less lonely and allows you to have a sense of mission and purpose in life, which is linked to better health. Studies show activities like these may help boost your mood and improve your well-being and cognitive function.
Here are some other ideas to help you stay connected.
Find an activity that you enjoy, restart an old hobby, or take a class to learn something new. You might have fun and meet people with similar interests.
Schedule time each day to stay in touch with family, friends, and neighbors in person, by email, social media, voice call, or text. Talk with people you trust and share your feelings. Suggest an activity to help nurture and strengthen existing relationships. Sending letters or cards is another good way to keep up friendships.
Sign up for an online or in-person class at your local public library or community center to help you learn how to use email or social media.
Consider adopting a pet if you are able to care for them. Animals can be a source of comfort and may also lower stress and blood pressure.
Stay physically active and include group exercise, such as joining a walking club or working out with a friend. Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of activity a week that makes you breathe hard.
Introduce yourself to your neighbors.
Find a faith-based organization where you can deepen your spirituality and engage with others in activities and events.
Check out resources and programs at your local social service agencies, community and senior centers, and public libraries.
Join a cause and get involved in your community.