Most of us want to live as long as we can, but for senior citizens living alone, loneliness can be a dangerous byproduct of getting older. Almost 30 percent of U.S. seniors now live by themselves, and while many enjoy the freedom of having their own space, others are not so lucky.
Senior citizen loneliness can have a very negative, even dangerous, impact on the mental, physical and emotional health of older Americans, especially those with Alzheimer’s disease. Seniors who feel lonely are 64 percent more likely to develop dementia and depression, while almost 40 percent of seniors with dementia say they feel lonely. Seventy percent of seniors with dementia have stopped participating in activities they used to enjoy, and even middle-aged adults who live alone are 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than their peers.
The good news is that when seniors stay connected to others socially, they are much less likely to feel lonely and depressed or to develop dementia. For seniors who have already been diagnosed with dementia, social interaction can slow down the progression of the disease. Here are six ways that older Americans can feel more connected to others and participate regularly in activities they enjoy.
1. Adopt a furry friend. Dogs and cats may not be human, but they do a great job of providing 24/7 social interaction and unconditional love. Also, having a dog that needs to be walked is a good way to get seniors out of the house every day.
2. Get physically fit. Regular exercise stimulates the release of feel-good brain neurotransmitters called endorphins. These chemicals diminish anxiety and depression while creating a feeling of peaceful relaxation and well-being. Joining an exercise class, signing up for yoga, or participating in a tai chi session can help seniors stay fit and make new friends.
3. Hire a companion. A professional companion can provide much-needed social interaction that can help a lonely senior to stay connected with others and involved in the stream of life. Companions take seniors out to the mall, to movies, to the golf course, to play bingo or to any other activity that the senior would enjoy.
4. Check out senior day care programs. This is an excellent way to help seniors to connect with others on a daily basis while participating in activities they enjoy. Seniors with dementia generally respond well to this kind of a setting, especially when the day care is staffed by geriatric care professionals. Day care can be an effective alternative to nursing home admission, and it can lighten the burden of loved ones who have been acting as caregivers.
5. Look into senior centers in your area. Local senior centers are similar to other community centers in that they provide social support and recreational activities geared to older Americans. Many senior centers receive state, federal and local funding, so the cost of attendance may be minimal or even free.
6. Take classes. Classes that meet once a week where a senior can learn something new and stimulating can be great fun. Classes also provide a consistent social milieu where seniors can meet others who share their interests.
The best way to alleviate senior citizen loneliness is to stay close to and connected with other people. Some seniors, especially those with dementia, might need a bit of support and encouragement to get started. But after a few positive experiences, they usually discover that getting older is much more fun when it involves sharing interesting, satisfying and stimulating experiences with others who want social interaction just as much as they do.