Aging is a complex process. From declines in physical capabilities to a gradual shift in mental well-being, most individuals experience unpredictable and unpleasant declines in how they act, move, and feel.
Aging can make maintaining existing hobbies and passions more difficult and is a direct cause of one of the unspoken epidemics in the older generation: elderly loneliness. Being lonely is common in those above the age of 65, with around 33% of all seniors qualifying as socially isolated.
If you are concerned that someone you love is trapped in a cycle of loneliness, there are certain symptoms to remain vigilant for. Being aware of the beginnings of loneliness is the first step to addressing it before it becomes a severe problem. Unaddressed, elderly loneliness rarely cures itself.
Here are six of the most common signs of loneliness in seniors helping you better understand when to seek help.
Why Loneliness Matters
Loneliness is a depressing and sad feeling, but it is more than that—it is also a physical and mental health challenge. Seniors who are lonely have a significantly increased risk of mortality from all causes, and they simply do not flourish as they should.
Heart health, blood pressure, physical condition, and mental/emotional well-being all suffer when a person is lonely. However, these can improve when that person begins making social connections again.
Thanks to the advent of internet technology, elderly individuals have more opportunities than ever to regain connection, even if they can no longer leave their home. To ensure your loved one is receiving the care they need in this area, remain attentive for signs of loneliness.
Signs of Loneliness in Seniors
Being lonely looks slightly different for each person based on their favorite habits, personality, and more. However, general trends emerge pointing toward consistent signs of loneliness among the majority of people, including:
1. A Change in Eating
If your loved one has had a habit of cleaning their plate and suddenly begins to consistently leave food behind, the reason may not be that they don’t like the cooking. Similarly, if they have always eaten like a bird and suddenly cannot seem to get enough, pay attention.
Gradual shifts in eating habits could indicate that your loved one is feeling lonely, and it’s beginning to affect their physical state. Eating more could be an attempt to compensate for the feel-good brain chemicals that used to come from social engagement are now missing, while eating less may stem from depression and a lack of hope.
2. Different Buying Habits
When people no longer regularly engage with others, they may become bored and begin to feel that their life is missing meaning. New purchases create bright points of interest and newness that seek to mask the boredom they feel from being alone. At its worst, this can lead to obsessive or compulsive shopping and hoarding which is financially and physically disruptive.
3. Long, Hot Showers
Studies have found that people often subconsciously use physical warmth to substitute for the feeling of social connection or warmth when it is missing in their lives. If your loved one begins to take long, hot showers or baths more frequently, it could be an indicator that they are trying to cope with a feeling of isolation.
4. Failure to Leave the House
Loneliness is often cyclical—that is, it feeds into itself and creates a repeating pattern that only grows in strength. Your loved one may not participate in social interactions because they do not leave the house, which may reinforce their feelings of failure, worsening their loneliness.
Alternatively, if they are suffering from depression and the loss of hope that accompanies loneliness, they may lack the motivation to leave home. Families can encourage their loved ones to get out and about by making plans for them or even opening windows to let in fresh air. Those who face mobility difficulties can still find connections online using forums, messaging apps, and more.
5. Exhaustion and Sleep Difficulties
The brain thrives on engagement with others, and when such interaction is lacking, research indicates that it does not perform its natural tasks as effectively. This can be evidenced in a person’s sleep, with those who are suffering from loneliness experiencing more fragmented, less restful sleep, and sometimes insomnia.
Or they may sleep later and longer, and their sleep cycle can get more and more off-balance. If your loved one complains of feeling tired all the time, or if they are constantly dozing off because they do not sleep enough at night, consider whether their loneliness may be disrupting their brain’s ability to rest well.
Seek Local Resources to Curb Loneliness
Loneliness is a powerful factor in an elderly person’s well-being as they age. However, loneliness does not have to be part of the natural progression of getting older. If you begin to notice the symptoms of loneliness, take action.
The team at Shepherd’s Center of Northern Virginia can help your family to understand the many resources available to get your family member engaged with friends and others who share their interests and hobbies. Contact SCNOVA to discover the options available in your community and help your loved one age in place in good health.