You can help your loved ones in later life if you know how to spot the signs of loneliness in elderly people.
Loneliness can affect older people when they withdraw from their family, friends and community due to lifestyle or health changes.
It’s extremely isolating to feel this way and loneliness can cause mental and physical health to spiral downwards.
This article will cover what to do if you notice the signs of loneliness in elderly people.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:
- Loneliness can be caused by a lack of relationships that provide support, friendship and a shared understanding.
- It can happen to older people even if they aren’t living alone or have lots of people around them.
- If you notice signs of loneliness, start by making a commitment to support your loved one through visits and chats.
- But if they aren’t comfortable talking to you, direct them to resources such as helplines for advice.
What causes loneliness?
There is not one single cause for loneliness, as it can be a product of a number of factors.
These include relationship breakdowns, bereavement, feeling socially isolated from peers, as well as physical or mental health conditions.
Loneliness may also be triggered in seemingly happy times such as retirement, moving house or joining a new community or group.
Plus, the cause of one person’s loneliness may be entirely different from another’s, so always look at the wider picture.
Is there a theory behind loneliness?
While it’s true that loneliness can happen to anyone at any point in their lives, it’s certainly not a random occurrence.
Loneliness can be caused due to a lack of quality relationships and meaningful connections.
Without these, mental and physical health can decline and reduce the overall quality of life.
There are six types of relationships that the sociologist Robert S. Weiss found to play important roles in our social lives.
- We seek relationships that help us feel safe and those that are guided by the desire to nurture and be nurtured.
- Sharing our interests and concerns with others is also integral to wellbeing, as well as seeking guidance in difficult times.
- We also need reassurance of our worth from people who appreciate individual skill and can be relied on to provide support.
Who is at risk of loneliness?
Both older and younger generations can be at risk of loneliness – read more about how to cope with loneliness in our guide.
General causes can include the loss of a loved one, a beloved pet or a break up of a relationship.
As well as lack of social contact or already poor mental health, such as experiencing anxiety or depression.
Loneliness can also be caused by changes to personal circumstances, like living alone for the first time.
Understanding signs of loneliness in elderly
Let’s look at these risk factors in relation to the signs of loneliness in elderly people.
After losing a spouse, people are extremely vulnerable to becoming lonely, as well as developing other health conditions.
Worsening health further reduces their ability or desire to socialise, increasing the risk of loneliness on multiple counts.
Plus, older people may not recognise that they’re lonely, or they may not know how to ask for help.
What are the signs of loneliness in elderly?
Symptoms of loneliness can be physical as well as mental – find out more in our guide what are the symptoms of loneliness?
Some physical symptoms include a weakened immune system and high blood pressure.
Both of which can have negative effects on a person’s long term health.
Psychological symptoms of loneliness can present as anxiety or depression, and cause changes to behaviour, appetite and sleep health.
What to do if you notice signs of loneliness in elderly
If you notice your loved one behaving differently, becoming more introverted or feeling isolated, these could be signs of loneliness.
It’s important to make an effort to keep up with your loved one, chatting with them, making plans and checking in regularly.
Here are some more things you can do as an individual to support your loved one if you notice signs of loneliness.
Work on your relationship
It’s important that you show your loved one that you are there for them.
This could look like visiting them regularly, or calling them to check in and have a chat.
You might also offer your help for them to get out of the house and do something together.
The little things can make a huge difference.
Schedule social time
Many people who are lonely are lacking meaningful social connections through friendships and conversations.
Try to engage your loved one in conversations that go beyond small talk, especially if they are living with cognitive decline.
Or you could engage them in activities like singing, dancing or some reminiscence therapy to get them sharing happy memories.
When it comes to tackling loneliness in later life pets can provide companionship and reduce stress.
Perhaps your loved one has always loved animals but never owned one, or lost a favourite pet in the past.
Getting a low maintenance pet such as a cat or older dog could be the perfect tonic to support your loved one.
And even if they can’t own an animal themselves, scheduling in some time with a furry friend can be a real game changer.
What services can help when you notice signs of loneliness in elderly people?
Tackling loneliness can be done through community groups that help people make friends and build support networks in later life.
There are so many resources, groups and initiatives to get support whether online or in person.
These include coffee mornings or other organised activities run by local community groups to get people socialising.
Check out what services the local Age UK runs to get your loved one involved in a fun and social activity.
- Day centres are a one-stop-shop for older people looking to make some social connections while getting the care they need.
- Run by charities and staffed by a professional team, day centres host engaging activities throughout the day.
- Giving people a chance to socialise while doing arts and crafts, quizzes and exercise sessions, plus enjoying a hot meal.
- Find out more about what’s included and how to attend in our guide what is a day centre?
Seek professional help
If you’re worried about your loved one, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with their GP.
They will be able to offer further support options for treating any mental health issues that arise from loneliness.
As well as point out community resources such as support groups for people who are struggling.
If your loved one is chronically lonely, their doctor may also want to monitor them for other health conditions.
What to do if your loved one won’t accept that they’re showing signs of loneliness?
If you notice signs of loneliness in your elderly loved one, there’s no doubt you should talk to them about it.
However, loneliness is still somewhat taboo, and many people feel some element of shame having to confront their experience.
As a result, your loved one may struggle to accept their loneliness or refuse your help when it comes to addressing it.
Here’s what you can do if your loved one won’t accept that they’re lonely.
Take the pressure off
For some, accepting signs of loneliness in elderly people can be a really big and scary step.
They may never have had a mental health problem in their life and not know how to think or feel about it.
And they may come from a generation or culture where mental health and loneliness are taboo subjects.
This can make talking to a close friend or family member really hard, embarrassing and not entirely helpful.
Use a helpline
If your loved one is experiencing loneliness but is reluctant to talk to you, a helpline can really come in handy.
Helplines run by organisations offer more anonymous support for people coming to terms with their feelings.
Friendly, understanding call handlers are available through the day and night to support callers who are experiencing loneliness.
They can answer questions, offer advice or just stay on the line for a friendly chat with absolutely no judgement.
Companionship and befriending services
Some older people may not want to use an online or telephone service due to worries about or access to technology.
Trained companion carers or volunteer befrienders are paired with your loved one via a charity or care agency.
They visit them at home for a friendly chat over a cuppa or can be involved in leisure activities such as trips or crafts.
If you found this guide useful then you might like to check out these guides on:
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