Every day, three out of four doctors in the United Kingdom (UK) see at least one older patient due to a single, surprising complaint: loneliness.
Researchers from the Campaign to End Loneliness, a UK-based network of organizations working to end loneliness and isolation, discovered that most doctors see between one and five patients daily due to loneliness. Even more incredible, eleven percent of physicians surveyed said they see at least ten lonely patients a day.
“Far too many people are feeling so lonely, and so at a loss about what to do about it, that they end up going to see their doctor,” says Director for the Campaign to End Loneliness, Kate Jopling. Unfortunately, nearly half of the doctors surveyed admitted that they felt ill-equipped to help lonely adults.
Loneliness, depression can increase death risk
Loneliness among the elderly population isn’t a phenomenon that is only found across the pond.
A 2012 study by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) concluded that a whopping 43 percent of aging Americans feel isolated, despite the fact that most of them live with at least one other person, usually a spouse or an adult child.
The dangers of isolation go far beyond bad feelings. UCSF researchers also found that lonely elders had a 59 percent increased risk of functional decline and a 45 percent increased risk of death. Experts equate the health impact of feeling all alone on older adults to that of being obese or smoking cigarettes.
And that’s not even taking into account the link between loneliness, depression and dementia.
Saving seniors from holiday isolation
The holidays are a time for family, celebration and delicious food; but for the elderly, these festivities can cause feelings of intense loneliness. Memories of celebrating the season with friends and family who’ve passed away compound the sense of isolation experienced by many.
However, there are a few things that you can do to make your elderly loved ones feel less lonely this holiday season:
Deck the halls together: Decorating for the holidays can bring up all sorts of memories, both good and bad, of celebrations past. Spend an afternoon helping your family member decorate their home (or inviting them over to help you decorate yours). Reminiscing together can enhance the positive memories and may help prevent a loved one from dwelling on the negative aspects of the season.
Bake them some cookies: Who doesn’t love being given a great, big pile of homemade cookies? Whip up a batch of your loved one’s favorite treats and bring them over to their house. Don’t just drop them off, though, be sure to make a delivery during a time when you both can spend some time visiting with each other.
Be sure to listen: We often don’t take the time to really listen to our loved ones—even if we talk to them every day. This is especially true during the hustle, bustle and stress of the holiday season. Set aside a few moments to really engage with your friends and family over the next few weeks; you may find ways to deepen your relationships with the special people in your life.
Bring the joy to them: If your loved one is living in a long-term care facility and cannot leave, then be sure to bring the festive spirit to them. Hold a special celebration at their residence and try to also include them as much as possible in the family’s other gatherings during the holidays. Video calling services such as Skype and FaceTime may be viable options if your loved one cannot physically be with the rest of the group.
Ultimately, the one element that unites all of these suggestions is showing a loved one you care by taking time out of your busy holiday schedule to spend time with, or do something for them.
9 Thoughtful Gift Ideas for the Special Senior in Your Life
The Elder Loneliness Epidemic
The Scary Truth About Depression and Dementia
How to Overcome Those Pesky Holiday Blues
How Being Mindful Can Help You Break Out of a Mental Rut
5 Ways to Make the Holidays Merry
By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor