As many of us are slowly coming out of a very isolating and stressful time after numerous lockdowns, loneliness is becoming more visible and understood as many others around the globe remain disconnected and at risk of sickness and mental health challenges. The effects and seriousness of loneliness have started to be recognised due to the covid-19 pandemic as we can now see how much a person’s wellbeing can be affected by it.
Technology is something that people, of all ages, relied on drastically during the pandemic to connect with loved ones during lockdowns whilst there was limited travel. Technology can be perceived in a negative light for its ability to isolate people who can become glued to the screen of their tablet or smartphone for hours on end, and away from meaningful interactions. But it also has many advantages and great power to connect us in ways that wouldn’t have been possible as little as 15 years ago. This has been evident during the pandemic with most of the population relying on Zoom, FaceTime, Skype and social media to keep in contact with friends and family.
In particular, technology has played a massive part in getting the elderly population more familiar with connecting online with distant families, those unable to visit due to health risks, and even just to talk. Many senior people live alone or separated from loved ones, and we know this can make them more prone to feeling lonely and disconnected. With more elderly people becoming familiar with technology and video calls, it is allowing them to feel closer to loved ones by seeing them almost face-to-face.
Luca Rado, the co-founder of The Live In Care Company, a UK-based elderly care provider, has provided expert insight into the everyday struggle that the elderly population has with loneliness.
How does loneliness have an effect on our wellbeing?
Loneliness can have a massive impact on our well-being both mentally and physically and the elderly population are more likely to face the worst of these effects. The mental health effects of loneliness show an associated risk of depression and anxiety, so combatting it is key in improving overall mental wellbeing. However, loneliness can also lead to physical health problems as well. Studies have shown that loneliness can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and mortality.
Why might an elderly loved one be more likely to experience loneliness?
Loneliness in the elderly tends to be more common than in any other age group. The reason for this is that there are several factors that the elderly population experience that most of the younger population do not, which includes:
Being a widower – losing a spouse or partner due to old age or illness in old age is a large contributing factor to loneliness, as many find comfort, solace, and company in their other partner. Statistically speaking, women have generally reported feeling more lonely than men which could be because women tend to live longer than men.
Long-distance relatives – another reason why an elderly person may feel lonely stems from the possibility that their family members no longer live nearby, and are therefore harder to see or contact regularly. When children grow up and start to form their own lives, the older generation can sometimes feel neglected, or not as included as they once were. This can only be heightened by issues such as ill-health, mobility problems, or the loss of a spouse or partner.
Mobility or disability issues – another factor impacting how lonely someone may feel is how mobile that individual is, or whether they depend on others to go through the day. If they struggle to walk independently, or cannot drive or be left unaided for a long time, this can significantly reduce their social interactions. For example, they may not be able to travel to the shops unaided, or may not be able to attend community events or functions such as afternoon teas, community workshops, or group activities, such as knitting.
What can you do if you think a loved one is feeling lonely?
Here are our four solutions if you are concerned a family member may be feeling lonely:
Keep them busy – Keeping busy is the biggest form of distraction from any feelings of sadness or loneliness. Depending on your loved one’s situation and whether they are happy to go out again after the ease in restrictions, there are many activities you can do. Examples include booking calls, arranging to watch the same TV show or film and then discuss it later. Book a regular family or group visit. Plan themed meals together for particular events. The important thing is to do the same thing at the same time, even if not together, as it brings a sense of belonging for both parties.
Stay in contact – Digital disconnection is one of the biggest risks of all. Whilst grandchildren and adult children can easily share pictures, videos, and voice notes, this is all very new to this generation. There are lots of advancements in technology to suit senior users to be able to still stay in touch easily. But technology isn’t the only answer; it’s heartwarming to also receive letters or ‘thinking of you’ gifts. Regular contact is the key here. Loneliness, like all feelings, isn’t easy for someone to always communicate. Staying in regular contact keeps the communication and conversation channel open, should they wish to discuss their feelings or ask for extra support and help.
Make inclusive plans – We’ve all gone from regular social contact to limited or zero interaction over the last year. When you’ve had a life with lots of laughs, events and engagements, this is quite a shock to the system, both physically and mentally. Not all elderly loved ones are as physically able as they used to be, and this can be a barrier in arranging activities, as they are worried they may struggle, hurt themselves, or cause inconvenience. Remind your loved one that you will be there, and find solutions to barriers that keep them alone. When it is safe to do so, arrange lunches at cafés that are wheelchair accessible, or find parks with lots of benches for rests. These little considerations that are inclusive of your loved one’s situation can be the difference in their involvement and happiness, or them passing up the opportunity to socialise.
Let them know they can speak to someone neutral – Often when we are struggling with loneliness or mental health issues, it is hard to talk to people closest to us for fear of their response. This can make it easier to not dwell on certain topics or open up a little more than they usually would with someone they know. Recommending apps and services with empathetic listeners could make all the difference to someone’s state of mind and help overcome feelings of loneliness. None of us are ever alone.
Coming out of hard times and looking towards the future, we can all recognise that mental health, and loneliness in particular, is something that needs to be improved, especially amongst the elderly population. Using the tips above, we hope that more people will take this advice and use it to form deeper connections with their loved ones and improve everyone’s overall well-being. You can find more tips on combatting loneliness here – https://www.theliveincarecompany.co.uk/care-guides/guide-to-loneliness/