Seniors face many challenges. They have financial constraints, difficulty finding work, have problems driving and getting around, deal with chronic illnesses, and if those weren’t enough, so many older adults suffer from loneliness. For the issue of being alone and lonely, do we have more control of feeling isolated than we want to admit? In the elder orphan Facebook group, I hear some members say they are very lonely, while others admit to being alone but rarely lonely.
Even for me, where I live (in a high-rise surrounded by close neighbors,) I experience a few residents who never make eye contact while others will stop in the hallways and strike up conversations. I wonder, in some cases, are we our own enemy? Maybe, if we learn to make contact, talk with people, even those we don’t know, would that help us feel more engaged and less lonely?
I posed the question to my Facebook group, and members responded with useful tips and suggestions:
– “Yes, so true, but know if you make a sincere effort to connect with another, not everyone will respond. Don’t let that one experience stop you from ever trying again. We should all keep trying again and again. It’s kind of like looking for a job, eventually, you will get one if you want one bad enough.”
– “I think if we become more engaged in groups or volunteering we would be less lonely.”
– “Having a disability or chronic illness may limit participation. Cultural studies tell us we have multiple identities; one at work, at home, at a place of worship, in volunteer work, etc. Understand your identities – interests, talents, and values. Then pursue them and find compatible people there.”
– “It has to do with the personality. My friend is amazing, she talks to everyone, everywhere. It never occurs to her that rejection is possible. And everyone responds to her. She was just camping at the North Rim, hanging out with 5 young men in the next tent. I am going to try to be more outgoing like her, but it’s easy!”
No, it isn’t easy to connect with strangers. But it gets easier over time. I was able to change my approach. Here’s how I changed being an introvert to being more inclusive:
– Made eye contact with every person that crossed my path
– Said hello to each one and smiled — if they didn’t respond, I was okay with it
– Asked many of them, “How’s the day going for you?”
– When shopping, make eye contact with clerks and thank them for the help and say, “I hope you have a good day.”
After a month, I was amazed by how I felt. It was a fulfilling experience and I felt more engaged. Years later, today, I have conversations with strangers at the bus stop, waiting in the checkout lines — no matter where I go (most times) I don’t feel alone because I know, a conversation and connection is right there waiting to happen.
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.