Loneliness is a common — and dangerous — health risk, but it isn't always recognized as one. Some people think that becoming lonely and depressed is inevitable as they get older. This is simply not true. The capacity and need for friendship does not diminish with age, and seniors with healthy social networks can continue living rich, full lives well into their golden years.
Loneliness isn't just a feeling — it's a physical stressor that can wreak havoc on your health. That's the conclusion that more and more researchers are coming to as they study the effects of chronic loneliness and isolation. People who go through life without much support and companionship from friends and family are more likely to suffer a variety of health consequences, both physical and mental.
Lonely people are less resilient than people with healthy social lives. They're more likely to get sick, and they're less well-equipped to deal with mentally and emotionally stressful situations. Someone who suffers from chronic loneliness is at risk for lowered cognitive function, mood problems like depression, and addiction to alcohol or drugs. Loneliness is also believed to cause chronic inflammation throughout the body, which contributes to health problems like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's, and cancer.
Loneliness can strike anyone at any age. However, seniors — and senior men in particular — are at especially high risk for chronic loneliness and all the complications that go with it. That's why preventing loneliness in seniors should be an especially high priority for home caregivers and people with senior family members. Here's what everyone should know about preventing loneliness in senior men.
Why Senior Men Suffer from Loneliness the Most
Senior men are often unprepared to deal with the boredom and isolation of post-retirement life. This may change with the next generation, but the current generation of senior men grew up in a society in which men were often the breadwinners. For many, going to work every day provided a built-in social network and sense of purpose. After retiring, many senior men find themselves feeling idle and unfulfilled, unless they make an effort to find new productive things to do with their time. Over time, these feelings of boredom and isolation turn into full-blown chronic loneliness.
Single men and widowers are especially prone to loneliness. It's common for men to rely on their spouses to maintain their joint social life throughout their marriage. Men who outlive their spouses often don't know how to keep participating socially once they are alone. And if single or widowed senior men don't get out of the house much, it's a recipe for boredom, depression, and deteriorating health.
Loneliness does not get better on its own. Fixing it requires a person to change their attitudes and habits, which is usually difficult to do alone. But many lonely senior men struggle with reaching out for help, even when they realize that their loneliness is a problem. Asking for help — especially emotional help — feels like a sign of weakness to some men. Moreover, chronic loneliness is stigmatized, and many people don't want to admit that they're feeling isolated.
How to Prevent Loneliness for Senior Men
Loneliness can be a tricky issue to fix because it requires the lonely person to take an active role in reversing the problem. In an ideal world, senior men would feel comfortable admitting that they're lonely and taking steps to fix the problem before it turns into a major health risk. But since many men have been conditioned to avoid asking for help, it's important for the families and home caregivers of senior men to be aware of the warning signs of loneliness and to gently encourage their loved ones to connect with others.
Preventing loneliness in seniors starts with recognizing the signs of chronic loneliness. If you recognize any of the following signs in your client or loved one, they may need help.
Spending more and more time at home
Complaining about sleep problems
No longer talking about friends or social acquaintances
Changes in appetite
Listlessness or sadness
If you suspect your client or loved one is lonely, it's important to address the problem tactfully. It will not help to make the person feel like something is wrong with them for not having many friends or struggling to socialize. Some people will become defensive if questioned about their loneliness.
Rather, take a more roundabout strategy. Ask your client or loved one to go places with you — try taking them out to lunch, going for a stroll around a market, or reconnecting with nature at a park together. Simply encouraging a lonely person to get out of the house more often can make a positive impact on their well-being.
It's also important to encourage lonely senior men to get involved in regular community activities. Volunteering is one great way to do this. Taking classes at a senior center or community college is another good option. Meeting with the same people over a long period of time gives senior men the opportunity to build new friendships and connections.
Home Care Services for Preventing Loneliness
Home caregiving can be an ideal solution for senior men who have mobility issues or who cannot drive. It's almost inevitable that someone will become isolated when they struggle to simply get out of the house. A home caregiver can help seniors continue to run errands, meet up with friends, and stay connected with their community. Home caregiving services can also help seniors with limited mobility take care of household tasks, which can help them feel more comfortable inviting friends and family members over to their house. And, of course, a home caregiver is a valuable source of companionship and support themselves.
Preventing loneliness in senior men may not be the easiest task, but it's certainly possible. If you're a home caregiver or you have a senior family member, encourage your client or loved one to go out and participate in community activities regularly. Help them out by visiting them, giving them rides, and inviting them to do things with you. You might be surprised by how positively a little socializing can impact a senior's overall well-being.
Do you need home care services in California? Reach out to Alegre Home Care about our experienced, highly qualified home caregivers.