Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Kaiser Health News ran a story last week on how to push back vs. loneliness in older adults. Understanding Loneliness In Older Adults — And Tailoring A Solution doesn't mean telling folks to get a hobby. Instead, the idea of fighting loneliness is making connections with others, living a purpose-filled life, and having important social roles. Loneliness among elders has been found to be connected to many issues. "Four surveys (by Cigna, AARP, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Michigan) have examined the extent of loneliness and social isolation in older adults in the past year. And health insurers, health care systems, senior housing operators and social service agencies are launching or expanding initiatives." Not everyone will respond well to one solution, so it's important that programs offer alternatives.
Interestingly, the story describes two categories of loneliness, what might be called short-term and long-term loneliness. "The headlines are alarming: Between 33 and 43 percent of older Americans are lonely, they proclaim. But those figures combine two groups: people who are sometimes lonely and those who are always lonely... The distinction matters because people who are sometimes lonely don’t necessarily stay that way; they can move in and out of this state. And the potential health impact of loneliness — a higher risk of heart disease, dementia, immune dysfunction, functional impairment and early death — depends on its severity."
The article not only explores the length of loneliness but the depth and types of it as well. "According to a well-established framework, “emotional loneliness” occurs when someone feels the lack of intimate relationships. “Social loneliness” is the lack of satisfying contact with family members, friends, neighbors or other community members. “Collective loneliness” is the feeling of not being valued by the broader community. .. Some experts add another category: “existential loneliness,” or the sense that life lacks meaning or purpose."
A program that might effectively combat loneliness has to look at the causes of it. Those include the sense that people don't care about you, disappointing relationships, for example. Some types of loneliness might have an easier fix. The article offers the example of "[s]omeone who’s lost a sense of being meaningfully connected to other people because of hearing loss — the most common type of disability among older adults — can be encouraged to use a hearing aid. Someone who can’t drive anymore and has stopped getting out of the house can get assistance with transportation. Or someone who’s lost a sibling or a spouse can be directed to a bereavement program."
The article is very interesting and brings depth to a very important topic.