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Surrounded By People: Not A Cure For Loneliness

Surrounded By People: Not A Cure For Loneliness

By Susan Williams

There was an excellent article recently written by Judith Graham for Kaiser Health News entitled Understanding Loneliness In Older Adults — And Tailoring A Solution.

In this article, it was emphasized how loneliness can be a significant challenge for many people when aging however how we approach the solutions for this should be individualized.

Dr. Vyjeyanthi Periyakoil, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine was quoted as saying;

“Assuaging loneliness is not just about having random human contact; it’s about the quality of that contact and who you’re having contact with…”

And this is so true.

Have you ever been in a room full of people but still felt alone?

I have. I can recall going to business conferences and even though I was surrounded by many people who had very similar interests to mine I still felt that I was alone. Sure there was some small talk, a smile thrown in here and there and the occasional discussion about something being presented. But that was pretty much it.

Even though I enjoyed these events for the interesting topics and dialogue it wasn’t like I was necessarily connecting with people on anything but at a surface level. On many occasions I would receive someone’s business card, we would connect through LinkedIn but that would pretty much be the end of the relationship.

So as pointed out in this article, the advice of “go out and find something that matters to you” may not necessarily work to reduce loneliness for people. It’s the quality of interaction and relationships that really matter.

And this may require an individualized approach depending on the person’s needs. The article pointed out that there may be three types of loneliness requiring different responses.

Emotional loneliness: this happens when someone is lacking intimate relationships

Social loneliness:  this is the lack of satisfying contact with family members, friends, neighbors or other community members.

Collective loneliness; this is the feeling of not being valued by the broader community.

and some experts add this additional category of loneliness;

Existential loneliness; the sense or feeling that someone’s life lacks meaning or purpose.

So why is combating loneliness so important for positive aging?

In an article published by the AARP titled Loneliness Can Be Deadly for Older People, they shared just some of the impacts that loneliness can have on someone’s health;

“Loneliness can be more dangerous to your health than obesity….  Those with preexisting cardiovascular problems who identified as being lonely and isolated faced serious odds. For those with a history of heart attack, the risk of death increased by 25 percent, and for those who had a history of stroke, the risk went up by 32 percent.”

So what can we do? Here’s a few things that I thought might help;

Build Social Networks Now

If you’re still working chances are you probably already have a social network at work. But what happens when you stop working – who will you associate with then? If you have a partner that you live with that’s great – but what if something should happen to them. Then what?

We shared a great initiative a while back asking the question, if you had to reach out to eight people who would they be. So think about this now. Who is on your list of eight that you enjoy spending time with and can have meaningful conversations with if you weren’t working?

Also Read: Who Would Be On Your List of Eight?

Find What Interests You

What do you like to do? What brings joy and pleasure to your life? If it’s fitness then maybe consider joining a running club. If it’s reading, think about signing up for book clubs or activities at your local library. If it’s cooking, why not start a dinner club. You get the idea.

However I think whatever you choose needs to have some sort of permanence to it and also provides the opportunity to actually connect with other people. We really need to have interests that nurture our mind and spirit and with people that we can relate to and if that means circling around something that we all enjoy then we need to do this. And ideally get started sooner rather than later.

For example, my parents are avid bridge players. On average they go out of the home or have people in to play two to three times a week. This activity helps to keep their minds sharp and them socially engaged along with having a network of people around them that they know they could call should they ever need help or support.

Do Something That Challenges You

Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”.

Think about that a bit. When you are doing something that challenges you to either think differently or try something completely different, it most often is invigorating. As well, chances are you will need some help and support in doing this.

So reach out to others that are already doing this for advice and guidance. Connect with them. Learn from them. Who knows what relationships may form.

There was a great story of a woman that we shared a while back who did this. She had recently retired and found herself bored and lonely. She knew she had to do something so she took up the sport of cold sea swimming and as they often say – the rest is history. She found herself getting healthier, forming new relationships and her quality of life improved immensely. (You can read and watch the video of her story here).

Form Relationships With People Younger Than Ourselves

How old are most of your friends? Are they the same age as you? Personally, I think we need to extend our relationships to people of many different ages. We don’t have “average lifespans” for no reason. So I think if we surround ourselves with people of many different generations a few things can happen.

First, we may learn and appreciate different perspectives. We may actually learn about things that we might not normally have thought about or considered. Secondly, I can’t imagine anything worse than witnessing all your friends passing before you and being left without any left in your life (or the reverse). By having a variety of friends of different ages, we may reduce the chances of this happening.

Be Aware of Loneliness Dangers

I think being aware of the prevalence and impact that loneliness may have is critical. Once we realize this we can pro-actively take steps now to try our best to not fall into situations where we are socially and emotionally isolated.

So look around you. Who is near by that you have positive relationships with? How will you get together with them over the long term? Will transportation be an issue at any point?

By being aware early of the potential and the risks associated with loneliness maybe we can plan so that hopefully we will not be joining as one of the estimated 43% of older adults who felt lonely.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.