Addressing loneliness

Loneliness is more than an unpleasant emotion. Older adults who are lonely are also more likely to be depressed and more likely to die at a younger age than their peers. They are also more likely to need help sooner with walking, dressing, and bathing.

Loneliness comes about when there is a mismatch between the kinds of relationship(s) we have and the one(s) we want. It’s more a matter of quality of relationships rather than quantity.

To find out if your loved one is at risk for loneliness, ask if he or she feels

  • lacking in close friendship. Is there a “best friend” or special buddy in his or her life?
  • odd one out in a group. Does he or she have friends or participate in group activities but feel “different” from everyone else?
  • socially isolated. Would your relative like to spend more time doing things with others?

If you are concerned, here are several strategies that can help.

  • Increase activities. Look for interesting classes and events in the community. Perhaps go with your relative at least once, or help out with transportation.
  • Facilitate use of the Web. Help your loved one track down old friends on Facebook. Or make new ones via email discussion groups about a hobby or interest.
  • Connect by phone. Take turns with other family members so your loved one receives a phone call check-in every day. Or look for a local program that offers regular “phone buddy” check-in calls. These have been shown to be surprisingly effective.
  • Schedule fun time together. With all the help that’s needed, friendly family visits can become “transactions.” A periodic “date” for something as simple as coffee or a video can do wonders for the spirit.
  • Find a counselor. If there is no one your relative feels comfortable sharing confidences with, consider a private counselor. Medicare may cover the cost.