A large proportion of seniors live alone and rather far away from family and friends. Moreover, many have physical mobility and/or transportation issues, so getting out is not as easy as it used to be.
So, it is little wonder that over 40 percent of seniors say they feel very lonely for significant periods of time.
This loneliness creates barriers to physical health. That same study concluded that lonely seniors have a 60 percent greater chance of developing serious mental or physical illnesses.
Physical activity and a good diet are quite important for seniors. However, it is just as important that seniors be motivated to address these issues, and that’s where combatting loneliness comes into play.
The benefits of yoga for senior citizens have been well-chronicled elsewhere. But along with the physical benefits of stretching and muscle use, there are some important social and emotional benefits as well.
The social benefits come from joining a senior yoga class, and there are options for all levels, from those who cannot even spell “yoga” to lifelong experts.
Seniors spend time with people their own age who have shared goals in life, and that is a good foundation for friendship. It’s quite common for people to go to lunch together after class or otherwise extend their social interaction.
Moreover, a class setting provides motivation, because regardless of age, no one wants to be the person who cannot do the exercises. Finally, there are emotional benefits to deep breathing and meditation, not to mention the added physical benefit of ramping up the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system.
Joining an advocacy group is another good way to connect with like-minded people. Since many seniors have time during the day, there are almost limitless options. Many groups are so happy to have the help they may even arrange for transportation.
Finding a group that combines advocacy and physical or mental activity is even better, so walk around the neighborhood to spread the word or find a good book discussion group.
Join a Band
Yes…you read that right. The goal here is not to earn enough money on tour so you can buy your own private island, but rather to connect with people and be active.
Joining a band may mean learning to play a musical instrument, and if so, that’s even better. Since motivation is stronger, attention spans are longer, and you have a lifetime of listening to build on, many people say it is easier to learn an instrument as an adult than as a child. AN since reading music helps build mental functions, the benefits just keep coming.
Local coffee houses and senior centers almost always need or want live music. Even if that’s not the case, have everyone over once a week or so.
Become a Mentor
There are two ways to go about this: Begin a traditional one-on-one mentor relationship or teach a class.
Fundamentally, Mentoring is about sharing your life experiences with someone who really needs to hear them. Moreover, in our social media-dominated society, many people need a personal connection as badly as you do.
In other words, mentoring is win-win. There are plenty of organizations that facilitate such relationships, or you can start one on your own by asking a neighbor to lunch.
Teaching is like mass mentoring, because instead of helping one person at a time, you can help an entire group develop life skills and find their way a little bit better.
The bottom line is that loneliness is the enemy here, and without proper preventative measures, it will slowly begin to dominate your days, and that’s an outcome that no one wants.