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The epidemic of loneliness

More and more research is coming out that shows that loneliness is becoming an epidemic. Aging adults aren't exempt from this epidemic. In fact, our aging loved ones may be suffering from loneliness at higher than expected rates.

AARP put out a survey that indicates more than 42 million adults in the U.S. over the age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness, and that 17 percent of adults over 65 are isolated. While loneliness and isolation are different - the former being a subjective feeling and the latter being measurable - ultimately, the concerns of both are similar.

What does loneliness look like?

It's important to remember that being alone doesn't always equate to loneliness or isolation. If your parent is living by themselves, you don't necessarily need to assume they are feeling lonely. But there are things you can look out for including:

Mentioning they have no one to talk to: Maybe they don't come out and say they are lonely, but they could be hinting at it. Whether it's saying they miss friends or lack phone calls, these may be red flags that your parent is feeling lonely.

Seeking out companionship in strangers: Has your parent mentioned that they have long chats with people like postal workers, cashiers or telemarketers? This may mean that they are seeking out conversation and connections anywhere they can find them. And if they are tech savvy, they may even seek out companionship online.

Self-Neglect: If you notice poor hygiene or groming, a lack of appetite or abandoning regular routines, thse could be red flags for lonliness.

Why is this happening?

  • Busy lives: People are just busy these days, and that means less time for visits and calls to older loved ones.
  • Distracted visitors: When family members visit, do they spend time with the elder, or attached to their phone or tablet? This can interfere with quality time with loved ones.
  • Being away from friends and family: Maybe they've moved recently, or maybe their loved ones have moved away from them.
  • Transportation and mobility issues: Getting around can become increasingly difficult, whether it's due to health and medical issues or a lack of reliable transportation. Perhaps the elder has recently given up driving, but hasn't figured out other ways to get around.
  • A different phase of life: Adjusting to a new reality, perhaps post-retirement or a new living situation, can make a big impact.
  • Consistent loss: As we age, it's natural that we begin to lose more loved ones. While it may be normal, it can still be difficult to handle.

What can you do to help?

Connect regularly: Make sure you call, text, or connect on a regular basis. Even if you don't have anything new or exciting to say, simply letting your parent or loved one know you are thinking of them can make a big impact.

Get them online: If they aren't already using social media or email, setting them up with basic accounts can help them stay connected to friends and family who they no longer get to see frequently.

Find activities: There are many programs and experiences that exist within the community to provide social contact for seniors. From exercise groups to outings, having something to look forward to can help.

If you need more assistance, there are plenty of local resources that can guide you, such as:

Age Friendly Seattle: The City of Seattle is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. They have many resources and programs that help improve the lives of seniors, including reducing loneliness and isolation.

Elder Friends: Elder Friends is a program run through Full Life. According to their website, it is a "volunteer-based program that provides companionship, outreach, and advocacy services to isolated older adults throughout Seattle and King County."

Village to Village Network: This movement helps members age in place, by offering local volunteer services to make it possible.

If you need help navigating through the many resources and options available, connecting with the regional chapter of Aging Life Care would be a good place to start. You can talk to an Aging Life Care professional, who can expertly assist you.

Looking out for your aging loved one is both challenging and rewarding. There are many resources to help you continue to make a positive difference in the lives those you love.

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