Loneliness is often experienced by seniors during the holiday season. Nostalgia, memories of lost loved ones, and distance from family can all contribute to the holiday blues. Research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that over 40% of older adults report feelings of loneliness, especially during the holidays. A 2013 study by the National Academy of Sciences even found that social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality, and persistent loneliness can have the same health impact as smoking almost a pack of cigarettes every day.
Many seniors don’t recognize their loneliness or the health problems that can ensue. As a result, few will voice their need for additional help or support. Here are some signs to look for:
- Change in sleep patterns
- Withdrawal from existing relationships
- Change in appetite – over or under eating
- Lack of interest in normal hobbies and activities
- Decreased attention to hygiene
Here are some ways you can add cheer to seasonal loneliness:
- Decorate and display holiday cards and greetings for them
- Help seniors make calls to distant loved ones
- Plan some holiday outings
- Tune in to festive TV shows
- Request visits by carolers or other holiday volunteers
- Encourage seasonal volunteering if seniors are capable of doing so
Feelings of loneliness and melancholy can also impact mental health and could be a risk factor for the development of dementia. Research reveals that depression is more common in those with other illnesses. Since many older adults have at least one chronic health condition and some have two or more, being aware of these risks and taking steps to encourage social activities is essential.
The upcoming holiday season should be a time of joy. Help your loved ones, elderly friends and neighbors enjoy the festivities by spreading cheer and happiness to them during this most wonderful time of the year.