Are Depression and Loneliness Connected With Aging?
For many elderly seniors, age is just a number. Many are living life to the fullest, taking advantage of everything life at this age has to offer. Building new friendships, traveling around the world, regular golf and tennis outings, family gatherings, etc. But this isn’t the case for every member of the elderly population. In fact, research indicates that as a society, we are lonelier than ever before. This is especially true of the elderly population. There are no accurate estimates on the number of elderly persons experiencing loneliness and depression, but the number is high and it’s getting higher.
So what’s contributing to this growing epidemic and is there anything that can be done about it?
Factors Contributing to Loneliness & Depression
Loss of spouse – Many elderly seniors are living alone for the first time in many years as a result of losing a spouse.
Extended family (children, grandchildren, cousins, etc.) live in another state – More people are moving for jobs and/or better quality of life.
Socioeconomic status – Some people just don’t have the financial means to travel the world or live out their retirement years in an active senior living community full of amenities.
Health related – Conditions like arthritis, urinary incontinence, tiredness, side-effects from medication, etc. can all lead to an inactive social life. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, a person’s physical health is a major cause of depression in late life. This may be due to several factors including:
- The psychological effects of living with an illness and disability
- The effects of chronic pain
- The biological effects of some conditions and medications that can cause depression through direct effects on the brain
- The social restrictions that some illnesses place upon life-style resulting in isolation and loneliness
Unfortunately, the loneliness and depression associated with health issues can often lead to even more and sometimes bigger health issues.
Loss of close friends and lack of desire to create new friends – Social isolation can lead to feelings of emptiness and depression.
Fear of driving – As we age, it’s common to have more anxiety about driving, especially on the freeways. Let’s face it, reaction time and eyesight aren’t what they used to be and hopping on the freeway or a busy road to visit a friend, go to the mall or head to the community center isn’t as appealing as it once was.
Moving to a new neighborhood or apartment as a result of downsizing – Many of the elderly experiencing loneliness and depression have had to downsize due to financial reasons or the inability to handle the upkeep of a larger home. This can lead to more loneliness as a result of moving away from friends, experiencing unfamiliarity with their surroundings, etc.
These are not the only reasons for the increasing rate of loneliness and depression among the elderly population, but they are prime contributors. There are things that can be done to help, but it takes some effort on the part of the individual. Many cities have free regular classes and activities for seniors, but they don’t do much good if the person doesn’t have the ability to get there. See if these places offer transportation or look into Uber. Uber has opened up a world of possibilities for seniors stuck at home. For more on Uber and senior transportation, go here.
Here are some other ways to combat loneliness:
Adopt a pet – Check with reputable local shelters to ask if they have any specific pet adoption programs geared specifically toward seniors.
Start a blog – Starting a blog is a relatively easy, inexpensive and fun way to pass time. The great thing about blogs is that you can blog about anything you know about. Many seniors like to write blogs on cooking, family, travel, hobbies, books, etc. The list is endless. Blogging also provides a way to interact with other people who have the same interests.
Find a new hobby – It’s never too late to start a new hobby. With all of the “how to” videos now available on YouTube, it’s easier than ever before to learn something new.
Volunteer – For mobile elderly seniors, volunteering is a great way to get out and meet new people. Volunteering opportunities can be easily found online.
Start a neighborhood club – If the community has a community center, talk with the community manager to see if there is an opportunity to put up a flyer and host the club at the community center.
Whatever you decide to do either for yourself or on behalf of someone you know, it’s important to do something. Loneliness isn’t going to go away by ignoring it, and if left ignored, it can lead to even more serious issues.