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Lonely People

Posted October 24, 2012 in Advice Column

After reading an article from AARP – The Magazine about an epidemic of chronic loneliness in our country, I was compelled to share this information with all of you.

“This affliction, experts tell us, ‘Is an ever-present, self-perpetuating condition that pushes people away from relationships that sustain us and make us happy.’ ”

In reading this piece I, being in this industry and holding the position that I do, was excited to hear that age does make a difference with chronic loneliness: “Those who said they are suffering most are not the oldest among us, but rather adults in their 40s and 50s.” Good news for our residents, not so much for the estimated 44 million adults older than 45 who suffer from it. Aside from age, loneliness was equally represented in those surveyed, regardless of race, gender or education levels.

Not only is chronic loneliness undesirable and unwanted, there is also evidence that it significantly increases chances of diabetes, sleep disorders and other potentially life-threatening problems and creates an increased risk of high blood pressure, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, weakened immune systems and Alzheimer’s disease.

So now that you’re aware of what chronic loneliness is and why it’s no good, what can we do to combat it and, in turn, live a healthier, more enjoyable life? While there’s no easy cure, here are some steps to help broaden your horizons:
•    Nurture your personal relationships.
•    Don’t substitute electronic communication for face-to-face contact.
•    Take time to volunteer.
•    Join a social club or community organization.
•    Stay in touch with former colleagues after you retire.
•    Educate yourself about loneliness.

Remember — everyone feels lonely from time to time, for example, after a divorce or loss of a loved one. This is situational and, although painful, is a temporary condition. Chronic loneliness, however, is a destructive cycle that can be difficult to reverse.

This information is vital as the 40- to 50-year-olds surveyed in this study begin to enter their later years. Settings like an assisted living can help older adults battle such situations because of their non-isolating set-up. For example, residents of The Continental at St. Joseph’s are encouraged to eat meals together in the main dining room. In addition, activities are built into each and every day; even when weather is bad there are plenty of people to socialize with and lots of opportunities to be active. Conversely, older adults in their own homes may miss out on social interaction for days or weeks if weather is unfavorable.

So in closing, I’d like to remind those feeling lonely, whether temporary or chronic, that they need to start small. Realize that you are vulnerable and it is not easy to rid yourself of this condition. You will have to work to keep loneliness at bay. It may mean saying yes to an offer to participate even when you would rather not. But just like exercise is important for physical health, so is interacting with others important for our mental health.

Information provided by Kristen Sheston, assistant administrator, The Continental at St. Joseph’s, 19999 Old Highway 5, Centerville, 641-437-1999.

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