Loneliness is one of the most formidable obstacles to health and quality of life for older Americans. As more of us join that generation--which statisticians predict will double to 70 million by 2030--the threat of loneliness will grow.
Unfortunately, recognizing the condition isn't as easy as we might think. "Loneliness is not what most people think it is, and that's why many seniors don't see the warning signs soon enough to head off disaster," says Marcia Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor and director of the Active for Life program at Texas A&M University. With loneliness, says Dr. Ory, a person "disconnects socially from the world around them, isolating themselves from involvement with people."
"We assume that an 80-year-old woman living by herself in an apartment must be lonely, yet she may have plenty of positive social interaction with others outside the home," Dr. Ory says. "At the same time, we think that a 70-year-old man living with his son's family cannot be lonely, yet he spends all day in front of the TV set and shuns all social activities."
It's how you live that makes you lonely, adds Carol Ryff, Ph.D., director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison."Our research, and that of others who study the social habits of the elderly, shows that seniors who are socially integrated---in other words, connected to others in an active, positive way---are in better health, retain more of the mental sharpness, and in general live longer than those who become social recluses."
Change Can Trigger Isolation
Seniors are more likely than younger people to experience changes that, if not handled properly, can isolate them. Examples include:
• Health problems that reduce or bar mobility.
• The death of a spouse, relative or close friend.
• A drastic change in routine, especially to an inactive lifestyle after retirement.
• Loss of contact with family or friends who move or have less time.
Occasionally, a sudden change can lead to depression in which case you have to treat the depression before you can have any hope of returning them to normal relationships with others.
Ways to Avoid Loneliness
• Keeping Working. Not everyone is ready for retirement---indeed, the concept of mandatory retirement was abolished by Congress in 1986. If you love your work and find your greatest social community between 9 to 5, there is a chance your employer will want to hold on to an experienced, industrious and dependable employee.
• Get connected. Rebuild a broken social network, or create a new one if old friends aren't readily available. Seek out social groups or activities for seniors at your place of worship, community center or local recreation department, for example. "Don't wait for others to outreach to you; get to them first," says Dr. Baumeister.
• Get involved. Draw on your years of experience or your wealth of free time to benefit someone else. "Teach a class, mentor in the public schools, volunteer to help the needy--but give of yourself," says Dr. Ryff. "You don't just get the reward of making a difference in someone's life, you get the bonus benefits to your mental and physical health gained with improved self-worth, fulfillment and purpose."
• Stay physically active. Take a walk, ride a bike, study tai chi or join a ballroom dancing group. The activity doesn't matter as long as you get up and move. Research shows a correlation between regular exercise and a better quality of life. "And those who exercise are less prone to loneliness because they are likely to be interacting with others when they work out," says Dr. Ory.
• Seek professional advice on making your senior years the good years. Go to such organizations as the AARP or peer groups of seniors looking out for each other.
Article by: The StayWell Company, LLC ©2016
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The CDC reports that this year's strain---the A(H3N2) virus---seems to make people sicker. And because prevention is the key to staying healthy, a quick reminder:
An unguarded sneeze or cough is like a horse that has already left the barn. Coughing into your hands is a no-go and a Kleenex is preferable to a handkerchief to catch germs. But what if you don't have a Kleenex? The CDC says if you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve as shown in the picture to the left. If you are sitting near an offender, try to change seats, or turn away. First chance you have, wash your hands vigorously as soon as possible and for at least 20 seconds. If you are still worried, wear a tightly woven scarf to protect your mouth and nose. If it's attractive no one will know if you are just chic or smart, or both. God bless you!