Aged Care & Loneliness
Thursday, 07 January 2021

I saw an old man, shrunken in the corner of a room with no animation in his face. He looked abandoned, so I asked, "Are you sad?" He broke into tears and told me that his spouse of more than 20 years had died a week ago. He admitted to me later that he learned a powerful lesson that day. What this old had was pure and simple: loneliness and sometimes the symptom originates not only from the body but is a cry of the soul.

The epidemic and health dangers of loneliness

 
Loneliness affects millions of Americans and put older Americans at risk of poor health from prolonged isolation. Loneliness is almost as prevalent as obesity. Members of the AARP Medicare Supplement Plans have conducted a survey, and about 9% were severely lonely while 27% to 29% were lonely. Loneliness rises to 55% from 5% of the healthcare dollar of the top 5% with the most chronic conditions, half of who suffer from severe loneliness.
 
Loneliness has an equivalent risk factor to health notwithstanding the impact on quality of life and life satisfaction. It shortens one's lifespan by eight years for those that smoke 15 cigarettes a day. According to dearjane medical a 75-year longitudinal study of men, loneliness is toxic according to the Harvard Study of Adult Development. The more lonely people are, then the more their brain function declines and the less happy they are.
 
Note that loneliness is a subjective opinion of how one feels while isolation is the objective measure of how extensive your social network is. In other words, you have no friends and not be lonely, and you can have many friends and be lonely. Isolation is risk factors for loneliness whether from becoming homebound, an absence of transportation, loss of mobility, or losing a partner or spouse. Hearing loss can set the stage for loneliness and can foster isolation and miscommunication.
 
Alone in a Crowd: The Spread and Structure of Loneliness in a Large Social Network according to a recent study. Loneliness can also be contagious, just like a cold. A group of lonely, separated people moves to the fringes of social networks, but in some cases, lonely people tend to talk about their loneliness with others. The problem is complicated, and those on the periphery may lose the few contacts they have.
 
More than half of lonely individual miss having someone to laugh with according to the United Kingdom Campaign to End Loneliness. Their research also showed that 46% miss having a hug while 52% miss being together with someone. Older people who experience loneliness even miss holding hands (30%), taking country walks (32%), sharing a meal (35%), or going on holiday (44%).
 

Treating loneliness

 
Loneliness is such a profound individual condition that we all know and yet a huge stigma to admit, but we all often neglect it. Social connection helps gives us resilience and thrive us. The support of family, colleagues, friends, and caregivers allows us to celebrate our experiences.
 
AARP Foundation recently launched Connect2Affect a social isolation platform. Building a network that not only raises awareness about social isolation but also recognises solutions is the goal. The website Connect2Affect features resources and tools to find practical ways to reconnect to the community, reach out to other people who may be experiencing disengaged and help users evaluate isolation risk.
Now that the holidays have come to an end, our friends and family have returned to their everyday lives, think about who you know who might be going through a divorce, who just lost a loved one or someone who might be feeling lonely even though surrounded by friends and family. Reach out and touch them. You can laugh with them; you can be a bright spot in their lives and ease the loneliness and isolation away.
 
Let us not forget the power we each hold in our hands. The power of friendship, connection, and being human. Now that the holiday break has ended hold a friend's hand today, and you can contribute to that person lives.
 
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