loneliness in older people

Loneliness in older people

Read Time: 4 mins

Loneliness in older people

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “loneliness” is as follows:

  • solitary, companionless, isolated
  • (of a place) unfrequented
  • sad because without friends or company

Of course, people can be lonely at any age but older people may not have as much to look forward to as younger people which can perhaps get them down.   The classic case of the widow or the widower springs to mind:  if someone has spent up to 50 years with the same partner and that person dies it is only natural to feel bereft.

When people have young children life tends to be very busy – kids have to be brought to school and to activities and there is not a minute to spare.  Modern life has become very hectic.   Then there is the push to get kids through the Leaving Certificate examinations and arrange college places.  Loneliness may strike at this stage in the form of the empty nest once the last child goes to college.

Time alone may not necessarily denote loneliness in older people because some people find it easier to be alone than others.   It may depend on what sort a life the older person led – a person who never married and was used to living alone will be used to their own company.    Other people will learn to adjust either by arranging dates with friends or by keeping themselves busy walking or gardening or whatever it is they enjoy doing by way of hobbies

Isolation is difficult if the older person feels that their family has forgotten about them or no longer care for them.   A regular phonecall may be the best way for people to stay in touch. Loneliness can affect people living on their own even in a physical way.  Cooking for one person does not hold the same appeal as cooking for a partner or a family and so the person may just not bother to prepare healthy nutritious food.  This can have an affect on their appetite and the older person may start to lose weight.  Regular visits from family are something for the older person to look forward to and if this is not possible the company of a home help breaks up the day and helps to establish a routine.

Another real worry is getting depressed.  Having too much time on your hands means that the older person can start to overthink things and worry too much about their own safety and security… what if someone breaks into the house?   This is detrimental to their overall wellbeing.    Of course depression can occur because of illness and there is a strong correlation between heart disease and depression.

During the pandemic older people and their families were forced to remain at home and daycare centres were closed.  Daycare centres provide an important role in the community where older people can attend once or twice a week and take part in activities such as singsongs, crossword puzzles, reminiscing or simply having a cup of tea and a chat.   It gives people something to look forward to.

For people who are active and mobile the Men’s Shed has become very popular.  The Men’s Shed has a policy of honesty & openness, equality and inclusion so that everyone is made welcome.  Some professional men may have spent their working lives without the benefit of male friendships and the Men’s Shed provides an opportunity to learn new skills in a spirit of companionship.  Golf Clubs may fulfil this role for other people.  Recently Women’s Sheds have also come into being and there are other womens’ groups such as sewing and quilting groups.  Family Carers Ireland provide a great service in supporting family carers.  There are Active Retirement Groups, computer classes for older people in local libraries and exercise classes.  Exercise is a very important part of ageing because exercise classes for seniors help to maintain a healthy weight, improve muscle tone, boost brain function and benefit your mental health.

There are lots of ways to combat loneliness in older people such as keeping busy and planning activities and getting out of the house now and again all help.  If you would like to discuss the care of an older relative please go to www.emerlavineldercare.ie

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