A 2017 survey by AARP found that more than a quarter of people over 50 had felt lonely during the holidays at some point in the previous five years.
With the festive season associated with social gatherings, friends, family, and increased socialization, findings like this might come as a surprise. But faced with challenges like grief, loss of independence, reduced mobility, and lack of transportation, many seniors find themselves struggling to connect with others during the festive holiday season.
As a family caregiver doing your best to make your loved one’s life as fulfilling as possible, it might be upsetting to consider that they could still feel lonely. It’s important to note that loneliness is common among seniors, and it doesn’t mean you’re to blame or doing anything wrong. There are many reasons why a senior may feel isolated or lonely, many of which have nothing to do with being physically alone or unsupported by loved ones.
You are not the problem, but you can help your senior loved one find a solution.
Loneliness and Social Isolation: What’s the Difference?
Loneliness and social isolation are often used interchangeably but are subtly different concepts. Socially isolated people have few social connections and interactions. While social isolation can undoubtedly lead to loneliness, it’s also possible to feel lonely without being socially isolated or to be socially isolated but not feel lonely.
Risk Factors for Loneliness in Seniors
Several factors may leave seniors feeling lonely. These include:
Losing a spouse, family member or friend
Having few close relationships
Living a long distance away from family
Loss of hearing (and other sensory impairments)
Consequences of Loneliness for Seniors
The physical and mental consequences of loneliness can be significant for seniors. Citing a 2020 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that social isolation was linked to an increased risk of dementia, heart disease, and stroke. It was even associated with a chance of premature death that rivaled obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity. Loneliness has also been linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression among seniors.
How to Help Ease Holiday Loneliness for a Senior Relative
Encourage Honest and Open Discussion
Societal expectations of being surrounded by loved ones and full of festive cheer during this time of year can worsen feelings of disconnection and loneliness. If all a senior sees around them is laughter and fun, it might feel difficult to open up when something bothers them; they might feel like a burden or be reluctant to ‘bring down the mood.’
Fostering an environment where they can express their emotions all year round may help them feel more comfortable sharing their feelings in the future. If you think something is wrong, gently encourage them to express their concerns. Please don’t force them; be sure to pay full attention and actively listen. Talking about what’s causing them to feel lonely or upset around the holidays could be the most crucial step towards addressing it as a team.
Help Them Feel Needed and Included
If a senior feels unable to contribute anything to the family’s holiday celebrations, or if they can’t get involved as much as they once could, it may cause them to feel more isolated. Consider how you can help your aging parent or relative take part in the preparation and delivery of holiday traditions.
For example, they can help prepare food, hand out gifts, or decorate the venue. Even if they cannot help, something as simple as asking their opinion on what dishes to serve or what games to play may help them feel valued and included.
Signs That It’s Time for Assisted Living Senior Care
With everyone coming together to celebrate, families often pick up on changes to a senior loved one’s health and well-being during the holidays. While it’s typically more challenging to spot differences as a family caregiver who sees them daily, fresh eyes from visiting relatives can help.
Here are just a few signs your loved one may need a higher level of senior care:
They seem unsteady on their feet at home or when attending social events.
Their personal hygiene or grooming habits have changed. Your parent, who typically puts great effort into their appearance, attends holiday parties looking less put together.
Your typically houseproud parent or relative’s home could be more organized and cleaner.
They’ve lost a noticeable amount of weight without a reasonable explanation.
They’re behaving out of character, perhaps withdrawn or irritable, having previously been social or the life of the party.
Discover Senior Living at Argent Court
If your loved one feels lonely or needs extra support with activities of daily living (ADLs) like bathing, grooming, and walking, assisted living could be the ideal next chapter in their retirement. Argent Court’s senior living residents receive all the daily support they need while enjoying enriching activities (including yoga, crafts, and cooking), daily opportunities to socialize, gourmet chef-prepared meals, and excellent on-site amenities (including laundry and a beauty salon).