By Tom Blake
On Oct. 19, CBS News featured an article titled, “Former surgeon general sounds the alarm on the loneliness epidemic.”
In the article, former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy stated loneliness can increase the possibility of heart disease, stroke and even accelerate Alzheimer’s disease. He added that loneliness might be as bad on health as smoking.
The article mentioned that about 30 percent of people older than 65 live alone and by 85 that percentage exceeds 50 percent. The former surgeon general declared loneliness a public-health epidemic.
When single seniors tell me the most difficult challenge they face is loneliness, I often ask them how they overcome it. Here are a few recent responses:
Thyrza said, “Loneliness happens to any age or gender. I was very lonely when my parents moved me with them away from my friends. I also felt a touch of loneliness when I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom. Now at my age, as a widow living alone, loneliness still creeps in.
I’ve learned that freedom to do what I want with my life released me from feeling lonely. Embrace loneliness and know when to release the feeling; it’s just a feeling, anyway.”
Esther emailed, “As a single retired teacher with no children and little family, I understand how loneliness can be a destructive force if not addressed. To avoid loneliness, there are seven things I do:
- Maintain contact with a small group of close friends with whom I share birthdays, holidays and life events.
- Volunteer at the local library, museum and botanical garden.
- Work as an English tutor three days a week.
- Interact with people of all ages. My local college offers a broad lifelong learning program with varied courses, travel opportunities and cultural events. I am an active participant.
- Ensure I never miss a regularly scheduled appointment whether it be a dental, medical or beauty appointment.
- Attend many, diverse cultural and social events and I exercise regularly at a gym, which has a fabulous ‘silver sneakers’ program.
- Keep in contact through the internet with old friends and relatives who live far away.”
Jon said, “Doing things in which a person finds fulfillment—not solely to be busy and taking up time—can reduce loneliness. A few close friends can help make up the difference.”
JoAnn has a simple solution: “Get a dog. Best friend, a laugh and cuddle a day!”
Bonnie wrote, “I have been able to mostly escape loneliness because I am an only child. Without playmates under my roof during my growing-up years, I had to invent my own fun. Creativity, reading and writing were my friends.
Now, at 64, and a single, empty-nester mom, those are also my adult enjoyments. I work full-time as a designer and read and write at every opportunity. I also love to travel solo.
If I was lonely, I’d volunteer as a docent or at an animal shelter. I’d have a once-a-month potluck dinner, drive for Meals on Wheels (My 96-year-old uncle still drives and serves others), give time to my house of worship or take a free class at a local college.”
RuthAnn stated, “Some of us have physical conditions that limit our access to being with others. Mine is having to avoid any place that has Wi-Fi running all the time, which eliminates lots of places nowadays.
So, I interact via computer, especially through the internet. Not a perfect solution, but that’s all there is for now. Socializing seems to be for those who are physically able to do so.”
Art emailed, “I have been a widower for 10 years, but seldom feel lonely. I have been involved with several Meetup.com groups, and I can usually find group activities several days or evenings a week.
I have also been dating a very nice woman for five years and we share many of the same Meetup friends. I met her on Plenty of Fish. The internet offers many opportunities to expand one’s search area.”
Those are great suggestions. The common thread: For seniors to ward off loneliness, they need to include social interaction in their lives as often as they can.
Tom Blake is a Dana Point resident and a former Dana Point businessman who has authored several books on middle-aged dating. See his websites www.findingloveafter50.com; www.vicsta.com and www.travelafter55.com. To receive Tom’s weekly online newsletter, sign up at www.findingloveafter50.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.