My favorite definition of loneliness comes from Britannica: A distressing experience that occurs when a person’s social relationships are perceived by that person to be less in quantity, and especially in quality, than desired.
It is common when people think of loneliness to think of the emotional response to a situation. We’ve all felt lonely at some point in our lives, often in a room full of people. Sometimes we don’t even recognize it as loneliness, we just realize we are not connected to anyone around us.
But, did you know that loneliness is much more than an emotional state? It is a health epidemic costing Medicare 6.7 billion dollars a year? (AARP)
Loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being obese and having a sedentary lifestyle. (Julianne Holt-Lundstad)
Nearly 40 percent of seniors feel some level of loneliness on a regular basis. (UCSF) and there is no doubt the holidays can be a difficult time for this generation stressed by the pressure of holiday expectations and the sadness of holiday memories.
What can we do to help those we care about?
That may seem simple, but when you have heard a story many times, make sure to listen again. Especially about holiday memories. If your loved one is hard of hearing or is developing dementia prepare ahead of time on how to best communicate.
Focus on the true meaning of the season
If they are no longer able to prepare the traditional holiday spread, or able to shop for gifts, make modifications.
Simplify the meal
One month after my mother had major surgery my family went from a full holiday meal on Christmas afternoon to a simple morning brunch. Each adult child arrived at my parent’s home with the food prepared and set it on the table immediately. This made for a quick and easy meal that emphasized family time and created little work for any one person. It has worked so well we’ve continued and made it our new tradition. My parents still feel involved because it is in their home, but they do not have the pressure of preparing the meal. You can also leave them the leftovers!
Simplify the gift giving
Ask older people in your life to give you the gift of their memories. In writing if they are able, or verbally, and you can record them. Another idea is to let them know that spending time together is the greatest gift. This year I am giving my mother a few 300 large format piece puzzles (available on Amazon for less than $10.00) with a certificate for puzzle day. When she turns in a certificate my daughter and I will show up with a few snacks and visit while we complete the puzzle.
Holidays are unfortunately a trigger for loneliness; however, our goal is to ensure the older people in our lives feel noticed and included not only during the holiday season, but each and every day.
Join the campaign and visit the ICOA website “Stay Educated” page to increase your knowledge about loneliness by taking our six module course, browse the tools and resources, and reach out to your local Area Agency on Aging to get involved.