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Combating Loneliness in the Elderly; Donate Your Words

With all the recent increased awareness about suicide lately it is important to focus on the group of people who are actually most at risk, have the highest incidence, and the highest rate of successful suicides. Men over age 65 face the highest risk of suicide and adults over age 85 regardless of gender are most likely to die from suicide. There were approximately 47,000 suicides in 2017, over 8500 of them were adults over 65. 

Researchers are concerned that as the population grows older these numbers will not improve, there are expected to be 98.7 million people over the age of 65 by 2060. Sadly statistics show that 1 out of 4 older adults who attempt suicide will die, compare that to 1 out of 200 attempts in younger adults. A few of the factors believed to play a part in this are seniors are sometimes frail and more susceptible to self inflicted injury, they can be more isolated which can make rescues less likely and they carefully plan their attempts. Many times the attempt can be triggered by the loss of a spouse or child, or just plain loneliness. 

A recent study in the UK surveyed 1896 seniors over 65 and found that only 22% of them had  human contact each week. The majority spoke to no more than 3 individuals the entire week. The most disturbing numbers that came out of the survey is that an estimated 285,000 people have no human contact each week. About 40% of the survey group said they feel better if they know at least one of their neighbors, 55% said a short conversation with a friend or neighbor would improve their day overall. A quarter of older adults said it makes them feel good if someone smiles at them or acknowledges them in the bank or store. One in five said they would be “thrilled” if a stranger asked how their day was going. These seem like easy things to fix. 

What can we do? There is a new campaign out of the UK called “Donate your words” to help change some of these sobering statistics. Such a simple concept if every one of us started to pay attention to the elderly around us, say hi, smile, compliment them. Say thank you for your service to retired military. We forget when we encounter older adults that they were not always what we see in front of us. We all have an opportunity to change someone’s life, don’t waste it. 

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