During the holiday season it can be hard for anyone, including seniors, to acknowledge their feelings of loneliness and isolation. For some individuals it may seem as though they are alone in being at odds with what our culture deems the most joyous time of the year. In actuality they are part of a very large group. Holiday statistics show that 45% of North American adults report that they dread the holiday season while specific senior citizen loneliness statistics reflect that 43% of the senior population feel lonely on a regular basis. Both these statistics reinforce how necessary it is to address loneliness in our senior loved ones and to help combat it.
What Does Loneliness Feel Like? What Are the Signs?
Loneliness in older adults doesn’t have a uniform look. While what immediately comes to mind when thinking of lonely senior citizens is them living alone or in a facilitated living center without visitors, there is also the population that is not actually physically isolated, but still has those sad feelings of being on the outside looking in.
Imagine for a moment a married couple where one spouse suffers from dementia and the other spouse is left watching their partner slip away gradually. Emotionally, that can be just as difficult to cope with as it would be if the spouse with dementia had already passed away.
Recognizing these situations can be difficult, so look for signs like over-sleeping, loss of interest in normal activities or restlessness and use these as a starting point to have a conversation with a senior loved one about what’s going on and what they are feeling.
How You Can Help a Lonely Older Loved One
Once you’ve gotten your loved one to open up, be sure to acknowledge the validity of their feelings. Negative emotions are difficult to deal with — and the dynamic of being older and receiving help from a child or younger adult can be hard to deal with as well.
Still, as a friend or family member of an older adult, you are able to help them. By providing a safe non-judgmental space to allowing older adults to discuss their negative feelings, you can help lift some of the stigma around the topic.
While difficult, don’t be afraid to broach the subject of handling the loss of a loved one with senior citizens head on. By doing so we can make sure they know that they’re being heard and their feelings are respected. For instance some people may find it comforting to celebrate a loved one who has passed by leaving out pictures when you gather together. Others may prefer that less of a fuss be made over them and may be more comfortable avoiding the topic.
Having discussed this ahead of time can make group holiday settings a little easier. Regardless of how your loved one would prefer to handle the situation, the critical component is giving them the comfort of knowing you recognize their loss and are available to offer support and love.
Finally try to reset expectations during the holiday season for your loved ones. Sometimes the pressure to eat, drink and be merry with friends and family can be too much. For some senior citizens, holidays without all the emphasis on activity can help curb feelings of sadness and loneliness.
Have you noticed a loved one struggling with loneliness during the holiday season? What have you done to help them through it? How did they prefer to approach the season? We’d love it if you shared your story with us.