Are you an older adult experiencing loneliness? Turns out, it's not just you. New survey results from AARP reveal that roughly 1 in 3 U.S. adults over the age of 45 is lonely. That statistic equates tens of millions of adults who feel a lack of connection, companionship, and engagement with other people.
While loneliness might seem like a fleeting or intermittent issue, the truth is that loneliness has been linked to poor health outcomes and increased risk for conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, depression, cardiovascular and immune system problems, and even Alzheimer's.
Even if you are frequently amidst other people like co-workers or parents you care for, loneliness can still feel pervasive. Rather than being the physical embodiment of solitude, loneliness should be expressed more as a state of mind – feeling alone, disconnected, or isolated.
So what can older adults do to combat loneliness and improve their own mental and physical wellbeing? Don't miss these essential tips:
Join a club – it might feel like going back to school, but joining a club in your community that aligns with your interests and values could do wonders for your social engagement. You can find a range of groups near you with sites like Meetup.com that get together for all kinds of activities – cycling, reading books, politics, hiking, you name it.
Volunteer – serving in your community isn't just a great way to give back and feel purposeful, it's also great for your health and a prime avenue for connecting with other people who share similar interests with you. Look for volunteer opportunities near you with search tools at CreatetheGood.org or VolunteerMatch.org.
Seek caregiver support – data shows that caregivers are more likely to experience loneliness than non-caregivers so if you are taking care of a family member, even just a few hours a week, seek support from local and online groups, i.e. respite services, adult day-care programs, online support forums, etc.
Participate in group exercise – exercise in itself will play a key role in helping you maintain good health as you age, but group exercise classes can go even further in that they foster a positive social setting for you to engage with other people looking to boost their health too. Look at your local gym, senior center, or boutique fitness studio for classes that might interest you.
Get to know your neighbors – social cohesion on a neighborhood level has been associated with lower mortality rates and better overall health. Community development these days, however, doesn't facilitate neighborly interaction like it once did and this could be key to fighting loneliness. Learn your neighbors' names, say hi to them on the street, offer help and support in times of trouble, and ultimately do your brain and heart good.
Stay mobile – one of the leading predictors for social isolation and loneliness is immobility. Not only do mobility problems inhibit your ability to get around, but they can result in fewer friends asking you to go out and inhibit your exercise capabilities. Utilizing aids like walkers and scooters for those with impaired mobility can empower you to keep moving, get out of the house, and participate in activities that you might otherwise not have.
Try social media – if you haven't already, joining a social media platform could be the bridge you need to engage with other people and fight loneliness. Not only can you share experiences, view pictures, and message family and friends, but you can find support groups on Facebook, take part in chat parties on twitter, and more. Some people have reported experiencing more stress because of social media (due in part to the 24/7 news cycle that is ever-present), so be choosy about what you view and who and what you connect with.
Travel to the country – a growing body of research suggests that urban dwelling can actually precipitate feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression compared to rural living. Even though you're surrounded by people when you live in a large city, the social stress can take its toll and loneliness can feel even greater. When possible, head out into nature, into the country or a more rural setting whether it's for a weekend or even a longer move.
Learn something new – learning a new skill or taking an educational class as an older adult can go a long way towards warding off cognitive decline and combating feelings of loneliness. Whether you are learning about art history or taking up a new instrument, connecting with a teacher or other students, not to mention giving yourself more confidence, can do wonders for your emotional health.