The harmful effects of loneliness on our physical health have been well documented, but how can you identify signs of loneliness in your loved ones? Loneliness and social isolation don’t affect us all in the same way. We often conflate loneliness with being alone or lacking a certain number of friends, but that feeling isn’t something that you can easily quantify in others, and it isn’t something that people will normally share. Because loneliness is about how we feel, it’s important for caregivers to understand some of the ways loneliness manifests.
Let’s talk about some of the subtle signs that can indicate your loved one feels lonely and what you can do about it.
They catch colds often
Isolation and loneliness can wreak havoc on our immune systems. Without adequate social connection, our bodies change over time. One significant shift is that the immune system of a lonely person will prioritize fighting off bacteria, leaving them susceptible to viral threats, which can lead to more colds.
They are buying lots of "stuff"
Lonely people tend to compensate by surrounding themselves with “stuff”, perhaps in attempts to fill a physical void or to give themselves a temporary mood lift. One study followed consumers over a six year timespan and found that “loneliness was likely to lead to materialism”. If you feel your loved one is too willing to indulge in a little retail therapy, then they may be experiencing loneliness.
They are surrounded by other people who are lonely
We know that loneliness isn’t as much about thequantity of relationships as it is about thequality of those relationships. But did you know that loneliness is contagious? According to one study, “loneliness occurs in clusters” and “spreads through a contagious process”. Surrounding your senior with people who are in similar social standing and may identify as lonely could increase their risk of loneliness.
The signs may catch you unaware, but there is one simple thing that you can do to help your loved one combat loneliness:help them rebuild the depth of their social network.
Often older adults feel isolated from the world because they’re homebound, their social circle has shrunk, their family has moved away, or because they’ve retired from work and spend less time engaging in social activities. Studies show that staying socially active might help slow cognitive decline. Loneliness isn’t a numbers game. Improving your loved one’s social network is about managing quality and expectation.
This is why we created Carenote. We understand that schedules are busy and priorities are spreading most family caregivers thin. Whether it’s a text to say hello or a phone call to discuss the latest episode of This Is Us, we are here to build lasting relationships with seniors. We pair your loved one with a dedicated caregiver so that they build a genuine connection and begin to open up. And with scheduled calls, your senior never has to wonder if we forgot. Give us a call today to learn more about our senior friendship line.