Combating loneliness and social isolation

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter – Combating loneliness and social isolation

By Tom P Blake  January 10, 2020

What’s worse for your health? Smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being isolated with little or no social interaction?

According to the December 2019/January 2020 AARP The Magazine, which arrived in our mailbox on Tuesday, both are equally bad for your health.

That observation was one of many in an article, written by Lynn Darling, titled, “Is There A Cure For LONELINESS?” Covering five pages, it’s the longest article I’ve ever read in any AARP magazine.

The article is like a short encyclopedia on how loneliness and social isolation affect older Americans. It covers in depth the causes of loneliness and what research is discovering about its effects on health. For a better understand of loneliness and social isolation, I highly recommend our Champs read it. I was surprised at the extent of the isolation problem among seniors.

But I want today’s focus to be positive: on what people can do to lessen loneliness and social isolation.

Our April 6, 2018, eNewsletter was titled, “The key to overcoming loneliness and the blues.” In that article, Champs made significant suggestions on how to deal with loneliness. Their comments were so helpful, I am repeating some of them today.

Here are excerpts from that eNewsletter:

Thyrza, California, said, “I think loneliness and social isolation happens to any age, gender or what have you in life. I was very lonely when my parents moved me with them away from my friends.

“I felt a touch of loneliness when I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom. Now at my age, a widow living alone, loneliness still creeps in. It does not bother me as much as when I was younger with my responsibilities as mom and wife.

“Loneliness affects everyone, but I learned that freedom to do what I want with my life released me from that feeling. I know it will always be part of one’s life but the freedom to act to get out of the loneliness rut is to be embraced. Embrace loneliness and know when to release the feeling. It is just a feeling anyway.”

Jackie, Tampa, Florida, emailed, “Loneliness is the biggest challenge for me as a single. I don’t mind eating out or traveling alone, but sometimes it would be nice to have a companion to share the experiences with.

“I don’t have many female friends who are financially able to travel or go out much. And I’m not a spendthrift, but I would enjoy spur-of-the moment road trips or dinner and a movie with a friend.”

Esther, Brooklyn, New York, “As a single woman, retired teacher, with no children and little family, I understand how loneliness can be a destructive force if not addressed. To avoid loneliness, there are several things I do:

-Maintain contact with a small group of close friends with whom I share birthdays, holidays and life events

-Volunteer at the local library, museum and Botanical Garden

-Work as a private English tutor three days a week

-Interact with people of all ages with various needs. My local college offers a broad lifelong learning program with varied courses, travel opportunities and cultural events. I am an active participant

“Never miss a regularly scheduled appointment whether it be a dental, medical or beauty appointment

“Living in New York City, I’m able to attend many, diverse cultural and social events. The Harbor Fitness, a state-of-the-arts gym near me, offers a fabulous ‘silver sneakers’ program for people over 55. I work out and socialize regularly.

“Through the internet, I keep in contact with old friends and relatives who live far away. Mainly, I do not feel alone. I am busy, significant and connected!”

Jon, Olympia, Washington, “The reason loneliness can be such a problem is we are ingrained with the philosophy that we must have another person in our lives to be ‘whole.’  Obviously, this is not the universal answer, citing the number of people in miserable marriages and a high divorce rate.

“Doing things in which a person finds fulfillment–not solely to be busy and taking up time–can reduce the feeling that they need an intimate relationship with another person. A few close friends can help make up the difference.”

JoAnn, “Get a dog.  Best friend, a laugh and cuddle a day!”

Bonnie, California, wrote, “I have great compassion for those experiencing loneliness; It is debilitating.

“I have been able to mostly escape that condition because I am an only child. Without playmates under my roof during my growing-up years, I had to invent my own fun. Creativity, reading, and writing were my friends.

“Now, at 64, and a single, empty-nester mom, those are also my adult enjoyments. I work full-time as a designer and read and write at every opportunity. I also love to travel solo, because my interests are specific, and I like to be able to pace myself and my energy as I go. For that reason, I avoid travel tours.”

“However, if I was seeking companionship, I would reach out to the cultural community and volunteer as a docent. Or at an animal shelter and offer two times a week to give love to the yet-to-be adopted pets.

“Or, save for a river cruise on the Seine. Always, always have something to look forward to. Open your home to a once-a-month potluck dinner. Drive for Meals on Wheels. (My 96-old uncle still drives and serves others!) Give time at your house of worship.

“Take a free class at a local college. Your calendar will be bursting at the seams with interesting tasks and interesting people and new ideas. And others will be blessed by your contributions.”

Tom’s comment:

To combat loneliness and social isolation, seniors must have more social interaction with people.

Photo of our Ireland travel group from August, 2019 in Ireland. Travel can create new friends and be helpful in combating loneliness. Notice the wide age range. Greta and Tom in front row center. Photo courtesy of Paul Culver.

And that interaction needs to be–as much as possible–face-to-face, not always on your computer or phone texting. However, keeping in touch, via phone or computer, with long-time friends in other areas of the country, is important.

Try to mix social interaction with younger people into your life—kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, for example, or friends younger than yourself can keep you thinking young. That’s very important.

A good way to interact with people is by joining groups. lists thousands of groups and activities and should provide plenty of ideas for people not sure what to do to meet others. My sister Pam, in San Diego, is heavily involved with the Orchid Society there, and maintains multiple friendships because of that connection.

As mentioned above, volunteering—helping others—provides social interaction. And, opportunities to help are endless.

If you are feeling lonely, get out there and make social interaction a top priority.

Your comments are appreciated.