According to the American Psychological Association, 12 million seniors 65 and older live alone. This staggering number grows every year as the baby boomer generation ages.
Although living alone itself does not automatically mean loneliness, it is a precursor. Social isolation can occur when living alone which can lead to mental and physical deterioration.
Mental Effects of Loneliness
It is no surprise that feelings of loneliness and isolation increase the risk of depression and mental deterioration. One study found a link between loneliness and poor mental health including depression and anxiety.
Another study found that senior loneliness is linked to declining cognitive performance. This is particularly concerning because this increases the risk for dementia.
Physical Effects of Loneliness
There are also serious negative physical side effects to prolonged loneliness and social isolation. A PNAS study concluded that loneliness in senior adults increases the risk of mortality and long-term illness.
Some illnesses include arthritis, limited mobility, lung disease, and depression. Social isolation will naturally lead to less movement if the senior is not actively taking measures to ensure proper exercise and stretching.
As a senior, recognizing the symptoms of loneliness and depression is important so you can take action. Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Feelings of sadness or despair
- Little appetite, weight loss
- Lack of motivation
- Loss of self-worth, feels burdensome, self-loathing
- Irregular sleep patterns - oversleeping, hard to fall asleep or stay asleep
- Neglecting personal care, proper hygiene, skipping meals, trouble keeping up with meds
If you have an elderly loved one you look after, it might be harder to see these signs. Look for additional symptoms like:
- Neglected chores like dirty dishes, trash not taken out, piled up dirty laundry
- Empty pantry and/or refrigerator
- Withdrawal from visiting friends and family
- They seem extra anxious, restless, or irritable when you visit
Ways to Combat Depression
As the loved one of a senior, if you notice these symptoms of loneliness, talk openly and honestly with them about how they are feeling. It is difficult for them to ask for help, especially if they are concerned about the consequences of sharing those feelings.
Having a compassionate, nonjudgemental discussion will help you understand what they are going through and prompt specific actions for treatment. Take to them to the doctor immediately if you suspect they have depression.
A doctor can diagnose depression and recommend treatment as needed. This may include taking medication to help the emotional symptoms.
Find ways to bring more human interaction and social activities into their life. Hiring a caregiver for customized home care can help lift the burden of household chores. They can do light housework like laundry, dishes, taking out the trash, and even do grocery shopping. They can even provide home-cooked meals.
Hiring help for senior care can also include helping them with physical activities like going for a walk, or playing their favorite games with them, like dominoes or cards. If the senior is unable to drive, a caregiver can drive them to activities like events at the senior center or other things they enjoy.