How to Help People Fight Loneliness

If we think about common causes of mortality, a few things come to mind. Obesity, definitely; cancer; heart disease; guns and wars. However, you probably don’t immediately put loneliness on that list—but you should. According to experts – most recently, at Brigham Young University – loneliness is an epidemic that could potentially be as risky as obesity or substance abuse. Millennials in particular are dubbed “The Loneliness Generation”, but loneliness could affect anyone—including seniors. According to recent studies, 43 percent of seniors reporting feeling lonely on a daily basis.

A recent 2020 survey made by the community Sixty+Me indicates that the number might be even higher – especially in light of the covid19 pandemic, which has led people to become more isolated. Among Sixty+Me’s survey participants and entire 87% reports that they sometimes or often feel lonely. When they did the same survey in 2019 “only” 75% reported that they felt lonely.

One of the primary reasons for feeling lonely among the Sixty+Me community is the lack of a spouse/partner along with living alone, not having many friends and not having contact with family members.

Besides being unpleasant, loneliness carries all sorts of negative health risks with it, like increasing risk of mental and physical decline. Although all of this sounds scary, loneliness is primarily an emotional state—which means a little care goes a long way to alleviate its symptoms. So if you have an isolated friend or relative you just don’t know how to help or talk to, below are a few tips to help break that feeling.

1. Listen, talk and interact

In our society, people are busy. We work, take care of the kids, make dinner for the family, plan weekend activities—and in the midst of it all, we forget to take care of our needs and feelings. Loneliness is a side effect of having too many responsibilities, and seniors feel it, too: over half of seniors say they feel ignored by society. So, one of the easiest things you can do to alleviate some of this loneliness is sit down and genuinely listen—and not just for 10 minutes, either. Spend some time taking in what they have to say, and let them know you’re an open ear for them. By making a conscious effort to check in with those around you and plan activities together that are active and engaging, you’ll soothe some of the stress of the daily grind—and help the people you love more connected to the ones they love, too.

2. Make transportation accessible

As we humans get older, all sorts of things hinder us from accessing transportation like we used to. Our shaky hands make driving uncomfortable, or bus stops are too far away from where we live to comfortably walk to. These elements and more can contribute to people feeling like they can’t live their lives like they used to—but you can alleviate that. If you have time, give a friend or loved one a lift to the store or a park. Even better, give them tools that make getting around a smoother experience (e.g. smartly designed walkers or canes could be part of that solution.) Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help getting places—and chances are, they’ll feel a bit more optimistic about the things they can do throughout their day.

3. Stretch comfort zones

According to studies, loneliness is contagious: the lonelier people feel, the more antisocial they act towards others. So although hiding away from the world to being on Netflix is tempting, it isn’t healthy in the long run: People are likely to isolate themselves further and spend more time at home on their own. To counter this, it’s up to you to motivate a family member to step out of their comfort zone. You can sign them up to a neighbourhood club, or surprise them with an exotic cooking lesson for their birthday. You can help them put together a shelf, or go walk their dog with them every Wednesday morning.There are myriads of activities to choose from, whether you’re involved or not—and they don’t have to be pricey or too time-consuming, either. Bottom line: take the initiative to involve someone who’s been hermiting a little too much lately in something that gently pushes them out of their social comfort zone. You’ll counter the contagious effect of loneliness.

4. Be generous with compliments

According to studies, poor body image isn’t just something young women suffer from. Women over 65 are similarly as dissatisfied with their bodies as women in their 30s—and considering that about 90 percent of adult women feel body image anxiety, that makes a whole lot of women with poor body images. Although helping someone love their body and appearance is far from easy, a compliment goes a long way. When someone tells you your hair looks great or your outfit is killer, you get a nice dose of self-confidence, right? So go ahead and return the favor! Remember to comment on that new hair-do or impressive posture and tell the people in your life how much you appreciate them physically and emotionally. Also, it’s not just about giving confidence verbally: it’s about giving the people in your life the tools they need that let them be independent and sure of themselves, whether those tools have to do with mobility or community connection. Bottom line is, it’s all about letting the people in your life know that someone gets what they’re going through. We all need a little reminder sometimes, right?

5. Invest in Smart Technologies

We live in a time of start-ups and product innovation—which means solutions for senior living are popping up faster and faster every year. There are tons of products out there to make life a little bit easier for elderly folks: whether you’re looking for a smart swimsuit, spoon or watch, it’s out there. You don’t have to give away every last penny for a new piece of smart technology, either: for example, an Ode fragrance releaser – promoting healthy food patterns – will set you back by 200 GBP, while a grocery bag holder just costs 6 USD. There are literally thousands of options out there that alleviate symptoms from hearing loss to difficulty walking to dementia: it’s up to you which one your senior needs, and which would make him or her feel a little more like themselves.