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I remember sitting with my husband’s grandfather, affectionately referred to as Nonno, eating salami sandwiches and drinking homemade wine. His once country ranch and vineyard was being taken over by new housing developments as the city outgrew its borders and expanded into what used to be open farmland. Nonno pointed with his cane to the few remaining rural properties nearby, naming various neighbors and friends he used to be surrounded by. “They’ve all died,” he mused. “I’m the only one left.” Sadly, losing spouses, friends and acquaintances to old age and death becomes a normal part of life for older adults. Everyone dies eventually, we acknowledge. But what about those who are still living? Senior loneliness is a serious problem.
According to a study from University of California, San Francisco, more than 49 percent of seniors experience loneliness on a regular basis. Research from University College, London found that the combination of loneliness and infrequent interactions with family and friends, independent from other health factors, can shorten a person’s life. Additional research shows that isolation significantly increases the risk of illness, depression, and other health concerns. According to AARP nearly 90 percent of seniors prefer to stay in their home for as long as possible. Living alone is a risk factor for senior loneliness. Living alone doesn’t always lead to isolation, but many seniors experience isolation, especially with the loss of a spouse or partner, and as long-time friends and neighbors begin to pass away or leave for in-patient care centers.
I’ve challenged you all to be on the lookout for health concerns and potential risks with your aging family and friends this holiday season. Senior loneliness is a specific issue that you need to be on guard for. Loneliness and sadness, alone decrease a person’s quality of life. The health problems beyond that have much greater implications. Research shows that social interaction is tied to both physical and mental health. Offer support proactively, and at the first signs of senior loneliness. Don’t forget about the people in your village: aging relatives, aging friends, the older couple who live next door, the elderly woman you see every Tuesday at the library. A friendly “just stopping by to say hello” goes a long way. There are many resources available to help a lonely senior such as counseling, support groups, senior centers, volunteer opportunities, therapists, the lists goes on and on. But these organizations aren’t watching your aging friend or relative, you are. In order to obtain help, it may take a loving and observant individual (aka you) stepping in and saying, “Let me help you help yourself.”
DISCLAIMER: This article contains information that is intended to help the readers be better informed regarding exercise and health care. It is presented as general advice on health care. Always consult your doctor for your individual needs. Before beginning any new exercise program it is recommended that you seek medical advice from your personal physician. This article is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. The reader should consult with their doctor in any matters relating to his/her health.