Senior isolation is a real and dangerous problem in the elderly community. Here’s a post about the 5 ways for overcoming grief and senior isolation.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because overcoming grief or senior isolation has become a challenge for you (or someone you care for). That’s the bad news.
The good news is, you have a lot of company. And when a lot of people have the same problem, there are usually a lot of people thinking about solutions.
That’s certainly true here. Overcoming grief and isolation is possible – and there’s plenty of help available.
But to know where to look, you have to start by understanding the root of your particular problem.
Overcoming Grief and Isolation: Understanding the Cause
There are 46 million people in the U.S. who are at least 65 years old. More than 25% of them live alone.
Not that you have to live alone to face overcoming grief or a sense of isolation. But along with disability and divorce or the death of a spouse, living alone is a major cause of those feelings.
You might also be concerned about overcoming grief or isolation if your income is limited or you’re uncomfortable speaking or writing in English.
In fact, any number of things can make overcoming grief and isolation necessary. For example, you can trigger grief or a sense of isolation:
- When you retire.
- If you live in a rural, hard to reach location.
- When your children move away.
- If you lose your social network because you’ve moved, stopped working or changed the way you live.
- If you’re worried about becoming a burden, or about falling or hurting yourself.
- If you’re sick.
There are other causes, too, although they may be less obvious. For example, if you become your parent’s caregiver, that can trigger feelings of grief and isolation. Sexual orientation’s another source. LGBT seniors are twice as likely to live
Sexual orientation’s another source. LGBT seniors are twice as likely to live alone, and therefore, more socially isolated.
You also need to recognize when overcoming grief or isolation in yourself or someone you care for is more than a passing problem. Because those feelings can lead to other, more serious issues.
Depression, for example.
If you’re like most people over 65, your health and your relationships with family and friends are probably the two most important things in your life. So it’s hardly surprising that grief and isolation can lead to clinical depression, plus a number of other personal and social problems, including:
- Eating disorders.
- Increased stress and anxiety.
- Sleep problems.
- Increased risk of chronic illness, including heart and immune system diseases.
- Reduced mobility.
- Higher risk of death.
So whether it’s your problem or someone else’s, overcoming grief or isolation is important, sometimes urgent.
Happily, as we promised, there are five real, concrete things you can do right now to deal with the problem.
Find Your Sense of Purpose
Your kids are grown. You’ve retired. Maybe you’re widowed or divorced. And you feel like no one needs you. What’s the point of life?
Finding a sense of purpose is a key strategy in overcoming grief and isolation, and avoiding their return. In fact, people with a sense of purpose live longer.
And the possibilities for “sense of purpose” are richer than you might imagine.
You can strengthen your self-esteem and sense of identity by volunteering for a cause or effort that’s important to you. And volunteering usually puts you in contact with other people, which immediately relieves some of that isolation.
There are lots of other ways, too, some surprising.
For example, caring for a pet.
Just owning a dog can reduce your heart attack risk and improve your first-year survival chances if you recently had one.
You tend to walk farther and get more exercise when you walk with a dog. In fact, just talking to a pet may lower your heart rate.
The same pet that provides therapeutic value to you can also help others. Many nursing homes, hospices, clinics, and schools will welcome you if you volunteer to offer pet therapy.
That can give you a sense of purpose and directly and immediately help in overcoming grief and isolation.
Learning is another way to gain a sense of purpose. For example, take a class in drawing or painting to express yourself and put you in contact with others.
Or, like many seniors these days, you can go back to work and help others benefit from your lifetime of experience.
Even sitting down to write your life story, or share your memories, (or interviewing someone who’s unable to write about his/her memories) can provide you with a sense of purpose and a means for overcoming grief and isolation.
Well, obviously, the way to avoid feeling isolated is to have company, right?
Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
What we’re really talking about here is what social scientists call building “social capital.” Those are the social connections that actually build trust and participation among people.
You naturally tend to have fewer and fewer of those connections as you get older. You retire, your kids build lives of their own, your friends move away or pass away.
So building social capital isn’t just hanging around other people. It’s doing things like joining a book club or another group of like-minded people, meeting regularly for cards or games, or taking a class or teaching one.
Or think about participating in a faith community or other another philosophical organization. This may also offer an extra benefit in overcoming grief or isolation. Lots of these organizations particularly value the wisdom and experience of seniors. So participating can help boost your self-esteem and give you a sense of purpose.
Whatever else you do, think about going digital. This can seem a little scary at first if, like many seniors, you don’t know much about computers, digital communications, and social media.
But that’s part of the point: Learning to negotiate this territory is great mental exercise.
Finding someone to teach you the ropes – maybe a grandchild or an extension class at your local high school – will expand your social contact.
And with digital know-how, you gain access to a whole new world of information, entertainment and social contact without even leaving the house.
Address Physical Limitations
And if you’re a senior concerned with overcoming grief and isolation, leaving the house can be a very big deal, especially if you’re dealing with physical limitations.
It isn’t just that physical limitations can lead to grief and isolation. Those feelings can actually compound the problem, making your personal health worse and creating a kind of downward spiral.
Incontinence, for example. It’s embarrassing and inconvenient, which can certainly make you feel isolated.
It’s also incredibly common.
Urinary incontinence is the eighth most common medical condition among women in the U.S. It affects 35%-45% of elderly women and about half as many men. That’s about one in every three seniors.
And incontinence can increase your risk for other problems, including declining mental health.
But the thing is, if you’re concerned about overcoming grief or isolation because of incontinence, there are lots of approaches available to you.
Of course, the first thing you should do is consult with your doctor.
But if medical care is ineffective or impractical for you, there are plenty of alternatives.
For example, an entire industry exists to make products to help manage incontinence.
Some provide practical mobility solutions, so there’s less need to feel embarrassed or inconvenienced.
Some are designed to improve comfort.
Still, others are hygiene-related.
You can also get expert guidance on incontinence-related products and other medical supplies from Minerva Medical Supplies.
You have just as many products and as much information available if your mobility is limited for other reasons. Besides your doctor, there are plenty of resources for information on walkers and wheelchairs, medic alert devices and other solutions available online.
Stay Physically Active
If you’re concerned about overcoming grief or isolation, you already know that those feelings can take a real physical toll, causing everything from back pain to upset stomach to headaches.
And you know intuitively that when you’re grieving or isolated, you’re less inclined to be physically active.
But the inverse is also true: Physical activities like yoga have been shown to be effective strategies in overcoming grief.
If it’s practical for you, high-intensity exercise benefits your body and your mind, enhancing your sense of control.
So will moderate exercise, like a dance class or a game of tennis.
But you don’t have to break a sweat to benefit from physical activity. Even walking to the grocery store can be useful in overcoming grief and isolation.
Get Outside Help
A vast array of resources exists, offering various kinds of help in overcoming grief and isolation. Your doctor, caregiver, therapist, friends, and family are all good places to start.
We cite others in this article, and many more are available. Some are national, some are state or local, some government-related, and most can be found online.
A handful of the larger resources would include:
But whatever you decide to do, the important thing is to get started now. The sooner you take action in overcoming grief or isolation, the sooner you’ll start feeling better.