Everyone feels lonely sometimes. If you are feeling down or alone, you may not think of this as a health concern. However, loneliness and social isolation are linked to a variety of serious physical and mental health risks, especially for older adults.
Busy schedules, geographic distance, physical limitations, and caregiving are all common reasons that socializing may become more difficult as we age. Maybe you haven’t seen friends and family in a while because of these challenges. The good news is that there are more options than ever before to feel more connected to our loved ones.
There are many things that can help you with managing loneliness. When you feel alone, start by picking up the phone and calling someone.
If you know a friend or family member may be hard to reach, consider scheduling a regular time to talk to them. That way, they will be expecting to hear from you. Social media can also help you keep up with events in their lives.
Getting to know your neighbors can be a great way of meeting people. You may find that someone nearby is also looking to engage in social situations. According to AARP, 61% of midlife or older adults who have never spoken to a neighbor are lonely. Only 33% of those who have relationships with their neighbors report loneliness.
There are also resources in your community that can help connect you with people and activities you’ll enjoy. You can find exciting and fun ways to nurture your interests and spend time getting to know other people. Try participating in a club, group fitness activity, class, volunteer effort, or religious group. If you don’t know where to start, your local community rec center or council on aging may have suggestions.
If you are feeling isolated or lonely often, consider bringing up your concerns to your doctor. Even if your emotions don’t seem medically important to you, loneliness can dramatically impact your risk for certain health conditions.
According to the CDC, studies have shown social isolation is associated with increased risk of dementia, heart disease, depression, and anxiety. In fact, social isolation increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes. Specifically, loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly four-times increased risk of death. Loneliness also increased the likelihood of hospital and emergency room visits for heart failure patients.
It can be difficult to open up about your feelings. But doing so may help you get the treatment you need and deserve. Your doctor will be able to help you the most if they understand your life more fully. They may also be able to connect you with programs or resources to help lessen your feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Visit the National Institute on Aging website for more tips on dealing with loneliness and social isolation.