There’s a growing concern that seniors in retirement are not actively involved and it puts them at risk for chronic conditions. Social isolation and loneliness among older adults are linked to depressive symptoms, poor cognitive functioning, disrupted sleep, lack of physical activity, and impaired mental health—all of which have implications for increased mortality.
Other risks include a weakened immune system, increased use of emergency services, early admittance to a nursing home, and frequent falls.
In 2018, an academic researcher asked 200 seniors in a Facebook group who frequently discuss feeling isolated, “What are your reasons for being socially inactive? Is it lack of transportation and budget? Is it because you don’t know about the local options and groups that can keep you connected? Or maybe it’s because it takes too much effort to build relationships? What do you fear most about being lonely and disconnected?” Here are a few stories she heard:
“I suspect I will feel more isolated after retirement. I live in a rural area, although there is a town 18 miles away and a city 25 miles away, so I can find activities in one place or the other. The complete lack of public transportation is a serious concern—if you can’t drive, you can’t go to the grocery store! I like living alone, with cats, but I also like doing things with friends. I do worry what would happen if I became physically disabled.”
“Most of my real friends moved to be with children and grandchildren. I have also moved several times. I have had health problems for over 20 years and one of those is chronic fatigue. It takes all my energy to keep up with the basics. Somewhere along the line I went from a gregarious extrovert to being lonely. Keeping the balls in the air is all I seem to do. Public transportation wouldn’t make much difference in my town. And budgets truly limit what entertainment, or help I can afford.”
“Putting energy into building yet another round of new relationships is becoming less attractive to me. Over the years and through multiple moves and career shifts, I have lost track of schoolmates, work buddies, former neighbors, and extended family. I have been able to reconnect with a few of them through Facebook, but they don’t live nearby.”
“Budget, transportation, and health are the main causes of my isolation. I had to give up driving because of severe glaucoma. Also, having a rare autoimmune disease makes me exhausted most of the time. Trips outside my apartment are to Dr’s appointments and grocery shopping. My only family is one son who lives in another city, and I rarely hear from him or his children.
Do you isolate and are you lonely? What do you do about it when feeling disconnected? If you care to share your story, send me an email to Carol@Seniorcare.com.
Carol Marak is an aging advocate and editor at Seniorcare.com. She holds a Certificate in Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.