The holiday season is a time to celebrate, reunite with loved ones, and find joy in the little things. Yet, for some, the holidays are a reminder of what was, inspiring loneliness and isolation. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many seniors.
With 1 in 4 adults over 60 reporting that they feel lonely, family members need to understand how loneliness affects their senior loved ones and how the holiday season can make it especially difficult.
Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but seniors are particularly prone to experiencing chronic loneliness as they age. Being an older adult creates more barriers and fewer opportunities to form new relationships.
In addition, health decline, whether their own or their spouse’s, can lead to depression and loneliness. As well, witnessing their social circles change, coping with grief and loss, and feeling left behind by an ultra-fast, youth-driven culture can make seniors feel like they no longer matter.
Senior loneliness is different from regular loneliness, as they are coping with varying degrees of loss. Some must face the loss of aging friends and family, while some are forced to confront their loss of independence and inability to do what they could when they were younger. This type of loneliness is hard to express, even to other seniors in similar situations, leading many to isolate themselves in an attempt to cope. Only this isolation increases the feelings of loneliness, creating an infinite cycle.
So, to best understand what loneliness is like for seniors, we must understand what causes loneliness in the first place.
Loneliness is an epidemic among the aging population, especially those with chronic conditions or disabilities that affect their mobility. Many life changes take place as people age. Their social circles and opportunities to form new connections tend to decrease; as they retire, they often become more isolated.
Additional causes for senior loneliness include:
- Lack of transportation
- Fear of being burdensome to their families
- Struggling with grief
- Difficulty communicating due to health conditions
- Financial hardship
- Limited or declining social networks
There are many causes for loneliness in seniors, and what may cause loneliness in your loved one may not necessarily be the cause of loneliness for another.
One of the worst parts about loneliness is how it breeds more isolation. Seniors struggling with loneliness often become more withdrawn, making them feel less connected.
Some signs of senior loneliness include:
- Avoiding social interactions
- Seeming “blue” or depressed
- Restless sleep or insomnia
- Lack of appetite
- Mentions of friends or relatives they haven’t seen recently
- Spending more time alone
- Befriending strangers
- Spending more time online
- Asking for help more than usual
- Complaining of health issues despite no apparent problems
- Calling or texting more often or reaching out less
If you recognize these signs in your loved one, it would be a good idea to reach out to them – even if they don’t seem lonely. An afternoon spent chatting together over tea or coffee could be the highlight of their entire week. Just by letting them know that you’re there and you care can make a big difference.
The holiday season is often a stark reminder for lonely people how limited their connections are. While those with close-knit ties relish the opportunity to get closer, lonely seniors are only reminded of who they’ve lost or the connections they lack.
There is no shortage of reminders of how much the holiday season centers around relationships. Many seniors will struggle, particularly around this time of year, because the relatives and friends they used to celebrate with are no longer around to carry on traditions.
And while much of the world seems to have moved on from the pandemic, the coronavirus still remains a threat to seniors. They are concerned about their health and may suffer from health anxiety when it comes to holiday gatherings and other events.
The holidays are filled with moments to connect and make memories, but far too many seniors lack the family and friends to share in these moments. As a result, they become more emotionally withdrawn, sullen, and less likely to engage in activities that could help them feel better.
Senior loneliness is a growing problem, so knowing how to identify, manage, and relieve it throughout the holiday season is a necessity. The longer seniors are forced to sit with their loneliness, the harder it will be to bring them out of it.
Now that we know how to identify senior loneliness, here are some ways you can help seniors struggling with loneliness this holiday season:
- Embrace the holiday spirit together. Embrace the best feelings of the season by spending more time together doing seasonal activities. Bake cookies, decorate, and put on some holiday music you know they’ll enjoy. You could surprise them by putting on a holiday album of classic songs that were popular when they were younger. The key is to focus on meaningful experiences rather than gift-giving.
- Focus on spending time together. Commercialism can make the holidays feel exhausting to seniors. They may feel like a burden if they can’t participate in events like they used to. Remind them that the holidays are about being together and appreciating one another. Because the greatest gift truly is one another’s company.
- Consider a new tradition. Opening holiday cards can be sad for seniors, as many often accompany notices of someone’s passing or illness. They may also become acutely aware that they have fewer cards than they used to. Think about how some traditions may negatively impact your loved one’s mental health, and offer alternatives that make them feel more hopeful.
- Decorate their space for them. Whether they live alone, in assisted living, or in a nursing home, you can help seniors feel brighter by decorating their space this holiday season. Hang up some lights, or get some cheerful paper decorations for the walls, creating a space that fosters joy. You can even do some arts and crafts together to make your own keepsake decorations.
- Talk about how they’re feeling. Although they’re more likely to suffer from chronic loneliness, seniors are also less likely to discuss their mental health. Make sure you are consistently engaging them in conversation. Listen to them, share stories, and recount memories of loved ones they may be missing most this time of year. And be sure to remind them that you are, and always will be, there for them.
It’s essential to ensure seniors have the support and care they deserve all year round. If you’re concerned about your loved one’s mental health or have noticed signs of loneliness and isolation, hiring a care manager may be in your loved one’s best interest. Senior care management provides personalized aged care to older adults who are in need of additional assistance.
Reflections Management and Care can help your loved one get through the holidays with personalized, compassionate home care and aged care services, including mental health counseling and Electronic Caregiver.
If you are interested in learning more about what we do or how we can help your aging loved one manage their loneliness, please reach out to us today.