Seniors: 3 steps for feeling less lonely

Are you a senior who sometimes feels a deep sense of loneliness? Are you someone who worries about a senior who seems lonely?

Loneliness is nothing to be ashamed of. And if you educate yourself about loneliness, you can recognize and combat its effects before it becomes a major problem.

Loneliness in medical studies

A recent study showed that loneliness poses a true health risk for elderly people — one that can lead to:

  • Higher blood pressure

  • Greater stress

  • Reduced immune defense (lowered production of white blood cells)

  • Earlier death in some cases

The study also revealed the startling fact that loneliness is a better predictor of early death than obesity. Those who felt lonely were more likely to die within six years than their nonlonely counterparts even when the study adjusted the results based on individuals’ ages, health problems and other factors.

Three steps to beat loneliness

Seek companionship. Many people look only to caregivers and family members for friendship, but local support groups, senior centers or faith-based organizations can be wonderful places to make new friends.

If you are a friend or caregiver to an elderly person, encourage them to lead an active social life and look for opportunities to help them connect with others.

Rediscover interests. After retirement, seniors may find they finally have time to take up hobbies that career or family responsibilities made difficult:

  • Volunteering

  • Caring for a pet

  • Gardening

  • Arts and crafts

  • Reading

  • Following sports

  • Playing an instrument

Having a hobby helps people of all ages stay motivated and looking toward the future.

Caregivers and friends can help older people access the activities they want to pursue or even join in themselves. For example, Salem Health’s CHEC hosts monthly cooking classes that are fun for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Be patient. The process can take time. A casual acquaintance can slowly become a close friendship. A new hobby may take a little dedication. But loneliness is preventable. Pushing it away helps your emotional and physical health.

Resources at Salem Health

Salem Health’s Community Health Education Center and Volunteer Services can help you stave off loneliness. You can find classes and events focused on many activities like cooking and fitness. The CHEC also offers specific support groups covering bereavement, caregiver needs, health-specific issues, Alzheimer’s and hearing loss, just to name a few.

Visit the CHEC website to sign up and get involved.

Additional resources

  • The city of Salem’s senior center is called Center 50+. It provides lectures, outdoor programming, arts classes, games, book clubs and support groups.
  • Just Walk Salem is a network of volunteer-led walking groups supported by a Community Partnership Grant from Salem Health. Each group is tailored to participants’ ability levels in order to boost community health and connectedness in your own neighborhood.

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