Isolation, regardless of your age, can kill. But for the elderly this seems to be bigger problem that many do not address. If family lives out-of-state and it is hard for them to visit frequently, the person may be alone for long periods of time. Loneliness can cause health problems. Clinical depression can develop – a genuine illness which is much more serious than just feeling low. In many, loneliness can lead to drinking problems and often causes reduced levels of activity and exercise as well as poor diet.
Prolonged isolation can damage the immune system, leaving people more vulnerable to infections. It can also affect the cardio-vascular system, increasing the risk of heart and circulatory problems. Lack of social interaction has also been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Unchecked, loneliness can gradually steal health away from the elderly, reducing not only their quality of life, but its length as well. This is why it is crucial to take action, even if your elderly parent is not keen on the idea.
If you are going to see your aging parents or elderly family and friends this holiday season, you should take time to check in with them and to look for clues that may help you to start a conversation with them and the time they spend alone when you’re not there.
- Body language. Does your parent’s posture suggest a ‘defeated demeanor’? Sometimes we can assume a lowered head or slumped posture is simply down to old age, but it could be expressing the emotional impact of isolation. Look also for tightly crossed arms and legs.
- Highly talkative. Someone who is lonely may well gush with chatter when they have the opportunity, as if they are making the most of a chance to talk.
- Prolonged holding of your hand or arm. Sometimes the lonely will try to cling on to any opportunity for physical contact.
- Lack of social circles. Ask them about the activities they are doing to get them engaged in the local community. For many seniors their social circles are dwindling and they do not know how or where to find new friends.
The holiday season can bring to the surface a family members feeling of loneliness. If you spot some of the trends noted above, take time to address while you are face-to-face. Use this time to help them find solutions to their feelings of loneliness. And remember, loneliness is when you are unhappy to be alone. Solitude is when you are happy to be alone. There is nothing wrong with solitude, wanting to, or enjoying being alone. Alone time can be useful and enjoyable.
Check out our next blog about dealing with loneliness in the elderly.