Life Over 65 Doesn’t Have To Be Lonely
When you think of health risks, smoking and being overweight probably top the list. But there’s a surprising hidden health threat that affects up to 30 percent of adults over 65 — loneliness.
Research has shown that loneliness and social isolation can increase the levels of harmful stress hormones and inflammation in the body. This in turn can raise the risk of conditions like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A study at Brigham Young University actually found that loneliness increases the risk of death by 30 percent.
“Loneliness is not what most people think it is, and that's why many seniors don't see the warning signs soon enough to head off disaster,” says Marcia Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H., a professor and director of the Active for Life program at Texas A&M University.
Contrary to what you might think, living alone isn’t always the problem. Loneliness occurs when people disconnect and isolate themselves from others, Ory says. That can happen in a roomful of people.
“We assume an 80-year-old woman living by herself in an apartment must be lonely. Yet she may have plenty of positive social interaction with others outside the home,” Ory says. “At the same time, we think a 70-year-old man living with his son's family cannot be lonely. Yet he spends all day in front of the TV set and shuns all social activities.”
It's how you live that makes you lonely, adds Carol Ryff, Ph.D., director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Research shows that seniors who are connected to others in positive ways are in better health and live longer in general than “social recluses,” Ryff says.
So what causes people to become lonely in the first place? As we age, we’re more likely to experience changes that can isolate us, such as a hearing loss, losing a spouse or living far from friends and family. Sometimes there may also be a deeper problem, such as depression.
“You have to treat the depression first before you can have any hope of returning them to normal relationships with others,” says Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D., a Case Western Reserve University social psychologist.
Five ways to avoid loneliness
- Get connected. Rebuild your social network, or create a new one if old friends aren't around. Seek out social groups or activities for older adults at your place of worship, community center or local recreation department. “Don't wait for others to reach out to you; get to them first,” Baumeister says.
- Volunteer your time. "Teach a class, mentor in the public schools, volunteer to help the needy -- but give of yourself," says Ryff. Not only will you meet people, but you’ll feel good about yourself, too.
- Get active. Take a walk, ride a bike, study tai chi or join a ballroom dancing group. The activity doesn't matter as long as you get up and move. Research shows a link between regular exercise and better quality of life.
- Get educated. Go back to school. Communities, colleges and organizations offer learning opportunities for older adults in everything from agriculture to zoology.
- Get online. A computer class can teach you the latest technology. “The Internet is a wonderful means of social communication and interaction, especially for those seniors who are not mobile,” Baumeister says. "It's hard to feel lonely when you can virtually visit the Sistine Chapel or play chess with a newfound friend in Australia.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with loneliness, reach out for help. Your Medicare Advantage health plan includes mental health coverage. Florida Blue works with New Directions to offer you behavioral health resources. Learn more about your symptoms and find support tools by visiting the New Directions Resource page on ndbh.com. You can also call 1-866-287-9569, Monday–Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET. TTY users, call 1-800-955-8770.
Source: The StayWell Company, LLC ©2018
Filed under: Medicare News