The first signs of loneliness in friends and family
There is no doubt that people in the UK are now living longer than ever before. While increased life expectancy is a good thing overall, it can lead to issues such as loneliness. This often happens as people become less agile and able to socialise.
Of course, loneliness is not restricted to the elderly but it does tend to be more prevalent in older people. According to Age UK, there are more than two million people in the UK who are over 75 and live on their own. More than half of them can go for more than a month without speaking to friends or family. This level of loneliness can create several problems.
As the experts at the Helping Hands home care company commented recently: “There are many people who live on their own with little or no contact with others. Their lack of structured social interaction could lead to loneliness and depression.”
What effects can loneliness have?
According to the National Institute on Aging in the US, there are several different health conditions that can be affected by isolation and loneliness. These conditions include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Cognitive decline
- Alzheimer’s disease
These health impacts can be serious. According to Age UK, loneliness can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes daily. It’s clear to see that loneliness can be dangerous but what causes this major problem to exist?
Why does loneliness happen?
The truth is that there are many different circumstances which make loneliness more likely. Here are some of the situations which are a recognised risk factor for loneliness.
- There has been a recent bereavement. Kenneth J. Doka Ph.D. talks about the loneliness of grief in this article on the Psychology Today
- A person lives on their own. Living alone can have advantages, such as having some space from others. However, this space can become a problem, especially as people get older. Solo living can start to have an adverse effect on mental health.
- There is a lack of mobility. Not being mobile makes it difficult for people to get out of their home to socialise.
- There are no friends or family living nearby. When there is no one close by who can pop in to visit, it’s easy for a person to start feeling very alone.
- A person is acting as a carer. According to Carers UK, 8 out of 10 people who are caring for someone have felt lonely or isolated at some point.
- There is a limited amount of money available. A lack of financial resources makes it more difficult for people to take part in social activities.
Signs of loneliness to look out for
While there are factors that make loneliness more likely, it’s important to realise that people can be lonely without being in any of these situations. It’s even possible to be lonely in the midst of many people if there is no quality connection present.
So what signs can suggest that a friend or family member is lonely? Here are some common first signs of potential loneliness to look out for:
- A change in sleep patterns
- Growing attachment to material things and increases in purchasing habits
- Increase or decrease in call frequency (communication)
- Taking things too personally and blowing situations out of proportion
- Recent death of a loved one
- Change in the amount of time spent outside the home
- Less effort put into maintaining personal hygiene and appearance.
It’s possible that a person who is lonely will become depressed. This is why it’s also a good idea to watch for signs of depression.
How to help a loved one who is lonely
There is no one easy solution to loneliness. However, there are some things that you can do to help.
- Show older relatives how to use social media and Skype positively. This helps them to have contact with family and friends even when they cannot be around in person.
- Advise the person who is lonely to take up a new hobby that involves social interaction, such as joining a choir.
- Encourage a lonely individual to join clubs where they can enjoy lunch and other activities with people of their own age and interests.
- Make an effort to visit people more often, even when you are tired or busy.
- Tell relatives and friends who live on their own to make contact if they want some company or even just a quick chat.
- Consider employing a care worker to help your friend or relative in their home. This also provides extra company on an ongoing basis.
Loneliness is a major problem in the UK. As the population ages, it seems likely that the situation will get worse. For this reason, it’s important to look for signs of loneliness in friends and relatives and help them as much as you can.
- You can find more ideas for helping older family and friends avoid loneliness by downloading our guide.
Image by Lukas_Rychvalsky from Pixabay