Help for Older Adults Experiencing Loneliness and Isolation
Many people feel lonely or isolated as they get older. As people age, changing circumstances can make it harder to stay connected with others. Retirement may mean losing touch with your colleagues and work friends. Over the years, family members may pass away, move out of state or get too busy to visit as often as they’d like. You could also find yourself facing health challenges that make it harder to socialize, such as hearing problems or mobility loss.
Since chronic loneliness among seniors predates the coronavirus pandemic, public health measures and fears of contracting the virus have significantly worsened the situation. In June 2020, 56% of 50- to 80-year-olds reported feeling isolated from others, about twice as many who said the same in October 2018. Since ongoing loneliness can lead to serious health problems, this is a public health crisis in its own right.
This guide aims to help older adults who are experiencing loneliness and isolation. Keep reading to learn who’s at risk of loneliness and how it can affect your health. It also includes a list of resources that can help you feel more connected.
Seniors Most at Risk of Isolation and Loneliness
Anyone could experience a loss of social connections and feelings of loneliness as they get older, but some groups of seniors are more vulnerable than others. Read on to learn who’s most at risk of loneliness.
Seniors Who Live Alone
In the United States, about one-quarter (27%) of older adults live alone. While some people may enjoy living by themselves, others may feel isolated without the company of a spouse, children or other family members. Seniors who live alone may struggle to maintain ties to their loved ones.
Seniors With Disabilities
About two in five seniors in the United States are living with some type of disability, such as vision loss, hearing loss or difficulty walking. These health challenges can make it difficult to participate in your favorite social activities. Staying socially connected can be even harder for seniors who are no longer able to drive or struggle to leave their homes.
Seniors Living in Residential Care Facilities
Seniors who are unable to live independently may move into a residential care facility, such as an assisted living community or nursing home. While these settings offer social support and the opportunity to connect with other seniors, it’s common to feel lonely in a new environment until you feel comfortable.
Seniors With Tight Budgets
Many older adults don’t have enough retirement income to get by. In fact, about one in three seniors were economically insecure in 2018. Seniors with higher incomes may also struggle to meet the rising cost of necessities. When you’re living on a tight budget in retirement, you may not be able to afford to dine out, take trips to visit family or participate in other activities that help you stay connected.
Loneliness is common among U.S. military veterans; a survey of predominantly older veterans found that nearly one in five often felt lonely. The relocations and deployments that occur during military service can make it harder to maintain a strong social network back home, and if you have combat-related mental health challenges, you may struggle to maintain relationships.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors may face unique challenges as they age. Research shows that they’re more likely to live alone than non-LGBT seniors, and they’re also less likely to have adult children for support and companionship. They may avoid meeting new people for fear of discrimination or abuse due to their sexual orientation.
Immigrant and Refugee Seniors
Senior immigrants and refugees may face loneliness and isolation in the United States. Newcomers may miss the friends and family members they left behind in their home country. With obstacles, such as cultural differences and language barriers, building a new social circle in America can be easier said than done.
How Isolation and Loneliness Can Affect Older Adults’ Health
Loneliness is more than just an unpleasant emotion. Chronic loneliness and social isolation can have a significant impact on a senior’s overall health and well-being. Keep reading to learn about the potential health consequences of loneliness.
Chronic loneliness has been linked to a number of physical health problems. Seniors who often feel socially isolated may face a higher risk of:
- Heart disease and stroke. Recent research published in Heart, a leading cardiology journal, reported that feeling lonely or socially isolated was associated with a 29% higher risk of heart disease. Poor social relationships were linked to a 32% higher risk of stroke.
- Dementia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that seniors who are socially isolated could have a 50% higher risk of developing dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is a well-known type of dementia.
- Premature death. Loneliness may be an important risk factor for early mortality. According to a review of 35 scientific studies published in the journal PLoS One, feeling lonely is associated with a 22% higher risk of dying of any cause.
Mental health is an important part of your overall health, and like physical health, it can be negatively impacted by loneliness. Research shows that people who feel isolated or lonely may have a higher risk of:
- Depression: Feeling lonely is a risk factor for depression in seniors. In fact, a large, long-term study of people aged 50 and older found that up to one in five cases of depression were linked to loneliness. Plus, higher levels of loneliness were associated with more severe depressive symptoms.
- Anxiety: Older adults who feel socially disconnected and isolated have a higher risk of anxiety, according to research published in The Lancet Public Health. When you feel anxious, you may withdraw from social situations, fueling the cycle of loneliness and isolation.
Fortunately, there are many resources that can help you avoid loneliness and its potential health consequences as you age. Keep reading to learn about the many organizations and resources that can help you feel connected.
Organizations That Can Help Seniors Combat Loneliness
No matter where you live, there are a variety of resources that could help you feel less lonely. National organizations help seniors throughout the country by providing friendly check-ins, volunteer projects, socialization opportunities and other initiatives. There are also organizations that serve seniors over a multistate service area. In the chart below, you’ll find some notable organizations that help fight loneliness.
Call (800) 677-1116 or visit the Eldercare Locator to find your local AAA
AAAs are nonprofit agencies that serve seniors within their city, county or region. Contact your local AAA to learn about the services and supports available to lonely seniors in your area. These resources could include support groups, senior centers and transportation programs.
To find your local ADRC, visit the Eldercare Locator or call (800) 677-1116
ADRCs connect seniors with programs and services that support healthy aging. Seniors who are isolated due to physical or financial barriers can turn to their ADRC for help. Resources may include senior transportation services, assistive device programs and help with accessing government benefits.
Call (800) 942-2677
AmeriCorps Seniors is a national volunteer program for people 55 and older. Each year, more than 170,000 older adults find local volunteer roles through AmeriCorps Seniors. By volunteering, you can make friends your own age and stay connected to your community.
Call (888) 281-0145
AARP’s Friendly Voice provides free phone check-ins to older adults. Seniors can sign up to receive regular calls from trained volunteers. A different volunteer calls each time, giving seniors the opportunity to talk to many new people.
Call (888) 998-6325 or contact your local program
Meals on Wheels provides home-delivered meals and friendly check-ins to homebound seniors. Each day, seniors can look forward to chatting with a caring meal delivery volunteer. Meals on Wheels also operates community dining programs where seniors can mingle and make friends.
Call (800) 234-9473
The Lifeline program helps low-income seniors pay for the telecommunications services they need to stay in touch with friends and family. Eligible seniors could receive a monthly discount on their phone or internet service.
Contact your local center
America’s nearly 10,000 senior centers welcome over 1 million older adults daily. Seniors centers offer a variety of social activities to help older adults make friends. Programming varies from one center to another but could include bingo games, fitness classes, book clubs and other senior-friendly activities.
Call (415) 861-5587
Seniors with a love of learning can make friends with similar interests at Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes. OLLIs are hosted at 125 colleges and universities nationwide and funded by the nonprofit Bernard Osher Foundation. Seniors can participate in engaging classroom experiences or join classmates on field trips to local destinations.
Call (480) 625-4679
Pets for the Elderly helps lonely seniors adopt dogs and cats from animal shelters. The charity provides financial assistance with adoption fees, veterinary services, pet food, supplies and other costs of senior pet ownership.
Call (816) 960-2022
This nonprofit organization helps older adults reduce isolation and loneliness. Its 55 affiliate centers offer engaging courses and workshops for lifelong learners. The centers also schedule fun group activities for older adults, including book clubs, day trips and holiday parties.
Online Resources for Seniors Experiencing Loneliness and Isolation
There are many online resources that can help seniors combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. The websites below provide information about how to cope with loneliness, grow your social network and use technology to stay in touch with friends and family members.
The Social Wellness Toolkit explains six strategies you can follow to improve your social wellness. It provides practical tips to help you find new friends, get active in your community and build closer relationships with your current social circle.
How Right Now is a resource provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seniors can visit this site for information about coping with loneliness and ideas to combat feelings of social isolation.
This guide explains the health risks of loneliness and suggests steps seniors can take to grow their social circles. It also includes a self-assessment checklist you can use to find out if you’re at risk of isolation.
Published by the National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults, this helpful booklet offers tips for using technology to stay in touch with loved ones. It covers device options, built-in assistive features and where to get low-cost phone and internet service.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides information about mental health conditions that could make it hard to connect with others, such as depression. It hosts online discussion groups where you can get support from people of all ages with similar challenges.
This website is a resource center geared toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender seniors. It can help you find LGBT-friendly senior loneliness resources in your state, from support helplines to lifelong learning classes.
Seniors who want to volunteer but aren’t able to leave home can find virtual opportunities through VolunteerMatch. These opportunities may include teaching children how to read or tutoring non-native English speakers. Volunteers can connect with others through phone calls or face-to-face video calls.
The Goodwill Community Foundation offers free online technology classes. These classes can help seniors feel more confident using a computer and using email and social media to chat with loved ones.
Senior Planet is an online hub for older adults. Seniors can participate in live, online classes about various subjects or join an Aging Discussion Group for friendly conversation. You can also sign up for Senior Planet Community, a social media site for people aged 60 and over.
State-by-State Resources for Combating Isolation
Each state government offers resources for seniors who are struggling with loneliness or isolation. Some states offer campaigns to combat loneliness directly, while others provide a variety of aging resources that could indirectly help seniors feel less isolated, such as transportation assistance or help finding employment. In the chart below, you’ll find the department within your state’s government that supports isolated seniors.