In Australia, one in five older people have reported feeling lonely and socially excluded – with this alarming stat set to dramatically rise with our ageing population. As a result, many seniors are likely to experience negative physical and mental health problems, including depression and physical and cognitive decline, which require longer-term care. In fact, loneliness increases the risk of dementia by 40 per cent for older Australians, regardless of other circumstances, and has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stress.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation can stem from a lack of strong and meaningful companionship (where the quality of relationships outweighs the quantity), or it can come from the gradual slowing down of life, which tends to happen as we age. However, there are ways we can combat this situation, and here are my top five tips:
1. Continue learning
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Use this time, especially when you feel lonely, to learn something new. Whether it’s a new language, how to paint like Picasso, further studies, starting a new hobby, or undertaking a new project, all are great ways to stimulate our minds and increase energy and enthusiasm, while putting time into meaningful, engaging activities.
The other benefit of activities like these is the opportunity to meet like-minded people who share similar interests and passions, and may want more meaningful connections. Bonding over a mutual hobby is a great way to form new relationships with others.
2. Sign up for group classes and activities
As we move on from Covid-19, group classes and activities are taking on more registrations. An effective way to fight loneliness and isolation is through these structured group activities, especially those that involve physical exercise.
We all know the amazing benefits of exercise, including better sleep, weight management, a boost in energy levels and critical thinking, and a reduction in health conditions such as heart disease. Another key advantage of regular group exercise is social interaction.
Joining a fitness class with people of similar age and interests will make exercise more fun and combat any feelings of loneliness too. So, consider trying walking groups or aqua aerobics classes or other activities in the local community that peak your interest. (For more on the most beneficial exercises for men and women over 55, read this.)
3. Embrace technology
The digital world can be somewhat scary for some seniors, but the recent lockdowns may mean we are now more comfortable with video calls via Zoom, Facetime and/or Skype. For those who are still unsure about technology, now is the perfect time to build confidence and skills across a range of platforms. Belonging to one of the most adaptive generations in history, it doesn’t take long to handle a smartphone with ease.
Embracing and adapting to new technologies and digital platforms allows seniors to get in touch with friends and loved ones around the world quickly and more often. During the pandemic, with physical social interactions limited, social and digital technologies helped us stay connected. And the connectivity options are endless, with – for example – WhatsApp for free instant messaging and Facebook for interest groups and reconnecting with old friends.
4. Practice mindfulness
Mindful practices such as meditation and breathing exercises are a great tool to help battle the negative mental, emotional and physical side effects of loneliness and isolation. Turning to these practices can help people uncover where their feelings are coming from, and how to better connect and engage with the world around them. Many forms of yoga combine meditation with exercise for a mental and physical health win. For tips on meditating at home, read this.
5. Tap into local community resources
From seniors centres to volunteer and transportation programs, the local community has an abundance of resources seniors can use when feelings of loneliness and isolation are heightened. In fact, there are plenty of community services designed specifically to meet the needs of seniors, all of which will certainly help strengthen people’s connections to and within the community.
Your local Blooms The Chemist Pharmacy is another great place to find connection and help when people feel particularly lonely or isolated. The teams across our entire pharmacy network are proud to be truly community-minded. We put people first in everything we do, and focus on providing care through developing genuine and personalised relationships.
As we age, it’s so important to continue to remain connected to friends and loved ones and the world around us for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. By taking on these practices and activities listed above, people can really help overcome feelings of loneliness. The key to defeating these feelings is to form lasting connections within the local community and to focus energy on bettering one’s self for longer-term self-gratification and happiness.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.