There’s a major health issue affecting older adults. It’s not a disease or a health condition, but left unaddressed, it carries the health risks of smoking 15 cigarettes per day. It’s isolation. And believe it or not, more than 8 million people 50 and over are affected by it.
In a study by Brigham Young University, researchers found that just feeling lonely can increase your risk of death by 26 percent. Not only that, recent census data show over a quarter of the country’s population lives alone and 42 million adults over 45 are
What’s behind isolation and loneliness
Isolation and loneliness is not the result of one event, but rather a combination of things. These can include:
- Poorly designed communities
- Poor physical and/or mental health
- Transportation challenges
- Life transitions like retirement or losing a friend or loved one
- Lack of opportunities for older adults to contribute to their communities
Isolation and loneliness: What’s the difference?
Though they may seem similar, isolation and loneliness are different. Isolation has to do with the amount of social contacts you have. So, if you have limited or no contact with friends and family, you may be dealing with social isolation.
Loneliness, on the other hand, is less concrete than isolation. It’s a feeling — a feeling of lacking companionship or intimate feelings with other people. You could feel lonely in your marriage, for example, even if you see your spouse every day.
What you can do if you’re experiencing isolation and loneliness
If you’re experiencing isolation or loneliness there are things you can do to feel better. According to PBS, alleviating loneliness has two factors: spending time with others and focusing on and fixing any discord you have in relationships with family or friends.
“People who are lonely tend to feel that others aren’t meeting their expectations and that something essential is missing. And there’s usually a significant gap between the relationships these people want and those they actually have,” notes the publication.
There are things you can do to combat isolation as well. Try these things if you are concerned about it:
- If you can, expand your social network before you retire. If you’ve been social with colleagues at work, chances are you’ll continue at least some of that connection once you retire.
- If you have kids, maintain and grow your relationships with them and their children
- Become involved in a group. Whether that’s a religious group, socializing with friends, a book club or an art or fitness class, it can help you feel less lonely and ensure you have regular social contact.