How Seniors can Avoid Loneliness and Social Isolation Retirement

How Seniors can Avoid Loneliness and Social Isolation Retirement

Did you know that loneliness is not just an uncomfortable emotion but can affect your physical health and shorten your life.  According to research, as many as forty percent of all seniors suffer from loneliness.  This feeling of separation and disconnection from others may predict serious health problems and earlier mortality.  Much of the problem stems from the growing number of seniors who live alone.  The U.S. Census Bureau estimates as many as 12.5 million older Americans live in one person households.  Even those that live with family members report feeling alone for much of the day as families maybe working and out doing activities.  Seniors can fall into loneliness due to failing health, memory, loss of hearing or despondency over losing friends and family as they age.  As you approach retirement, consider how you will spend your time and replace the social and emotional gratification that you have been getting from your work or raising children with something else. 

Get out of your House/Room…

The first step to combatting loneliness, is to spend less time alone.  It can feel comfortable and safe to stay home, but that can quickly become isolating and feel like a rut.  Get out to the local library on a regular basis and check out a book.  Spend some time reading there and getting to know the librarian and staff.  Ask for book recommendations or find out if there is a local book club you can join.  Check the local concert schedule and make listening to music a regular activity.  You can attend free events at local venues and bars or buy tickets and invite friends.  Alternatively, to meet people and make friends you might consider joining a senior center or group that shares your interests.  Communicate about your feelings and open up to people so that you can connect.  Loneliness is something that we all feel occasionally, and people will feel connected when you share your feelings.

Ask Questions, Seek to Learn from Others…

Perhaps the best way to have a conversation and connect is to ask questions.  People love to talk about themselves, and you will set the foundation for deeper friendships through learning about people.  Listen actively and try to remember the name and something personal about each person you meet.  If your memory is not great, carry a small notebook and jot it down to review later to reinforce the information.  When it is your turn to talk, share some personal things, but don’t overshare.  It can be easy to dump on people when you don’t get out much or talk a lot.  Share a few personal things but be careful not to devolve into a montage of negativity about health or things you are unhappy with.  Take it slow and build the relationship before you share too much with your new friends.  If you are rusty, get a book from the local library to hone your conversation skills and practice on your new friends. 

Reconnect with Old Friends or Family...

Go through your contact list and identify a person each day that you have not talked with in a while and reach out.  Simply ask how they are doing and let them know that you are updating your list.  You might find some old friends that have lost a spouse and may be as eager as you are for social connection.  Go through some old photos and send your friend a photo of you doing something together along with a note.  People love to get mail and love to remember old friends and fun times shared together.   Make regular calls to family members.  Ask when the best time is to call as they may be busy with careers and children.  It’s not that they don’t want to talk, but you may be reaching out at times that are not convenient for them to chat with you.  Use facetime or video calls to see each other instead of just a voice call as connecting face to face is much more satisfying than audio only.

Try Something New…

It’s never too late to learn a new skill or hobby.  Find something you are interested in such as an art class and sign up to attend.  You can go alone and might find yourself meeting new people who share your common interest.  Bringing a friend is good as well, but if you do, make a pact that you will meet at least one new person at each event.  It is easy and comfortable to fall into the trap of simply talking to someone you know verses reaching out to new people.  And remember, you are not the only person feeling alone so reaching out can be an act of kindness in support of another lonely person.

Get a Pet or Volunteer at an Animal Rescue or Shelter…

Pets are a great way to feel less alone and have an outlet for your emotions.  Taking care of something can give you a great sense of satisfaction and purpose for life.  The routine of feeding, exercising and grooming your pet can be deeply comforting and satisfying especially if you are used to caring for others.  There are many shelters and rescue groups that you can contact and foster a homeless pet while it waits for adoption or adopt one yourself.  These organizations always need volunteers to help care for and walk the animals which can be a great way to get out there.  If you need help caring for your pet, enlist a helper to come by to assist when needed or take your pet to the vet if you cannot.  Be sure to have a transition plan for your pet should you become too ill to continue to provide a loving home for your pet.  Most shelters will have a take back program for your pet if you adopt from them and become unable to care for it down the road.

Dine out for Senior Specials…

Although it can be expensive to eat out, many restaurants and diners have senior discounts and early bird specials.  Make it a regular habit to go to the same restaurant and befriend the staff.  They will learn who you are and make an effort to greet you and give you better service.  Notice who the regulars are and introduce yourself or even ask to join their table.  You just might make a whole new circle of friends at your local diner or restaurant.  Inquire about groups that may meet there like the Kiwanis Club or political groups that need volunteers in the community and join them.

Loneliness is a real and pervasive problem for seniors and people in general.  Remember, you need to be your own best friend and advocate for yourself.  Share your feelings with a trusted friend or family member and ask for their help in coming up with a plan to combat loneliness.  And remember, although it may seem like it sometimes, you are not alone!

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