Understanding Alaska Senior In-Home Care and Loneliness
In an age where we can talk to, see the faces of and hear the voices of loved ones from all corners of the world with merely the click of a button, it is frustrating to know that isolation and remain critical factors in the health and emotional challenges faced by the elderly each day. Often times in-home care providers can not provide the constant connection that seniors desire and/or need.
Loneliness is a chronic issue among the elderly, especially those that are remaining in their homes. The emotional and physical health impacts of chronic loneliness in the elderly can lead to mental health-related illnesses, physical illness, chronic disease, and even early death. As part of a three plot blog series, we will explore loneliness and isolation among the elderly. In this segment, we will discuss degrees of loneliness and the types of loneliness. In future parts, we will discuss the health effects of chronic loneliness and ways to combat loneliness.
To better understand the ways loneliness can affect your senior family member, it is first helpful to learn about loneliness itself. What do the words loneliness and isolation mean? How does someone become isolated and lonely?
Degrees of Alaska Senior in-Home Care and Loneliness
Despite our perceived interconnectedness, as a society, we are lonelier than ever. In fact, a study conducted by Cigna in 2018 showed that nearly half of U.S adults (46%) reported feelings sometimes or always alone. Of those adults who state they are lonely, an alarming majority are seniors. Between 33 and 43 percent of older Americans state, they are lonely. Those figures are divided into two groups; those who are sometimes lonely and those who are always lonely.
The distinction between sometimes lonely and always lonely is an important distinction. People who are occasionally or sometimes lonely don’t necessarily stay that way. They often experience waves of loneliness that come and go. People who are always lonely or severely lonely tend to remain in a chronic state of isolation. For these seniors, the potential health impacts of loneliness also increase. The instances of diseases and mental health conditions such as heart disease, dementia, immune dysfunction, and others are all increased in seniors who report or experience chronic isolation and loneliness.
Aging brings about many changes that can contribute to a more solitary life for the elderly population. One of the most significant issues for seniors is the reduction in the size of their social circles as the years go on. Retirement often brings about mixed results for many adults. Retiring grants older adults more free time for hobbies and relaxation; however, it also reduces the opportunity for meaningful interactions with colleagues regularly. As the years go on, friends, significant others, and family members move away or pass away. Even those who still live nearby are restricted by mobility challenges or the inability to drive. Finally, age-related conditions such as vision or hearing loss make it challenging to communicate-even in this age of virtual communication in the palm of your hand.
Types of Loneliness
We do not often consider or realize that loneliness is frequently classified into different forms. Each of these “forms” of loneliness presents differently and requires different responses from family and caregivers.
Emotional Loneliness: this type or form of loneliness occurs when someone feels lonely due to a lack of intimate relationships. A typical example would be the loss of a spouse or life partner late in life.
This loneliness results when the elderly experience a lack of satisfying contact with family members, friends, neighbors, or other members of the community.
This type of loneliness occurs when someone feels like the community members do not value them. This could be the community in which they live or another community, such as a church group, social group, or hobby group.
This type of loneliness is not referenced as often as the previous three; however, it does warrant defining. This type of loneliness happens when a person feels as though their life lacks meaning or no longer has a purpose.
As life progresses, it is not uncommon for senior members of our family (or our communities) to experience one or all of the different types of loneliness. As we age, we often lose contact with those we love. Spouses pass away, and members of the family move away from the communities in which their senior relatives live. Eventually, formerly close-knit family units separate, and senior members of the family begin to feel alone and isolated from the outside world.
Many seniors rely on family members, friends, or other community members as they get older and begin to have difficulty getting around on their own. As these contacts begin to disappear or fade, it becomes ever more challenging for seniors to feel like they are valued members of their community or capable of participating in community (or even family) events.
All of the above, often in conjunction with senior family members not wanting to feel as though they are “a burden” to others, can easily and quickly lead to loneliness and isolation.
Understanding the Roots of Isolation and Loneliness
Listening to older adults and learning about the types of loneliness they could experience is important for several reasons. Before we can prevent or combat existing difficulties, we must first understand the driving force behind their feelings of loneliness and isolation.
One of the root causes of loneliness and isolation in the elderly can be the perception that other people (including family, friends, and community members) have rejected them or no longer care about them. Due to this perceived rejection by those they would ordinarily lean on, the elderly often convey further negativity and push others away. These actions only serve to reinforce their feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Another common cause of loneliness in the elderly are relations