As the Carpenters sang many years ago, “Loneliness is such a sad affair.” In 2022, over two years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned much more about the effects of isolation…meaning loneliness makes life much harder.
A recent study found that loneliness cannot only decrease a person’s quality of life, but in fact accelerate aging – even more so than smoking. Meanwhile, a separate study showed that levels of loneliness increased disproportionately among seniors 75 and older amid the pandemic’s social distancing measures.
We all wish for a life full of joy, so preventing loneliness from negatively impacting one’s life is essential.
How Does Loneliness Affect Quality of Life?
When people experience long-term isolation, their mental health suffers, and their bodies show physical effects.
A person has two ages — chronological age and biological age, experts suggest. Chronological age is the total number of years that someone has been alive. Biological age is the age that someone seems. Sadness, loneliness, and depression, the researchers say, can add 1.65 years to a person’s biological age.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center, loneliness can have the following physical and mental consequences:
- Increased risk of heart disease and vascular problems
- Compromised immune system
- Loss of cognitive function
- Increased risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts
Practical Ways for Seniors to Cope With Loneliness
The effects of loneliness can seem scary. Coping with loneliness can also seem hopeless. Fortunately, there are some small changes that individuals can make in their daily lives to handle loneliness.
- Keep In Touch — It is important to keep in touch with family and friends. Today’s technology makes keeping in touch with loved ones easier than ever. It is worthwhile to learn how to FaceTime, video chat Skype, schedule meetings on Zoom, text, or voice chat. These are some ways to help you keep the lines of communication open between you and the people you love.
- Create a New Community — Making new friends can also decrease loneliness. Having a group of friends around you to share your life with and who understand what you are going through can increase your overall happiness. Putting yourself out there and finding a sense of community can be good for your health.
- Carry Out Random Acts of Kindness — Giving back to your community and those around you can also decrease feelings of loneliness. Volunteering can take your focus off negative feelings, and it can also replace any feelings of isolation with a sense of accomplishment. It can also be a good way to meet new people and help you find a new community as you age.
- Plan Ahead — Planning for upcoming activities, get-togethers, or events can keep your spirits up by giving you something to look forward to every day. You are less likely to feel lonely if you keep your social calendar full and Keep your mind occupied.
- Travel If You Can — If you can travel, do it! Your family and friends would love to see you, and if they cannot make the trip to visit you, you can visit them. It is important to stay close to those who love you.
- Hire a Caregiver — If you find yourself alone due to illness, disability, or age, a caregiver could be a big help. Caregivers do provide care in assisting with activities for daily living such as cooking, cleaning, and other healthcare needs. They can also be a friend as well as be someone to talk to and keep us active.
Loneliness is a part of life. We all go through periods when we feel lonely, but that feeling does not need to last forever. You can take power over your life and over loneliness as you age or as illness and disability become a reality.