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Keeping Spirits Bright This Holiday

The older we get, the greater our risk of becoming isolated. We may no longer go to a job. Health issues may isolate us. Our spouse and friends may have passed away. According the 2010 U.S. Census, 28 percent of people age 65 and older live alone, accounting for approximately 11 million older Americans. According to a study conducted by geriatricians and the University of California, San Francisco, 43 percent of seniors report feeling lonely at least some of the time. And loneliness is bad for our health. A study conducted at Brigham Young University found that “the effect of [social isolation and loneliness] is comparable to obesity.” Lead study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad emphasizes that “we need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”
The holidays can trigger feelings of loneliness for many seniors. Seeing others taking part in traditions they’re no longer able to participate in can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation. That’s why it’s essential for seniors to find ways to become – and stay – engaged with others during the holidays. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Join a support or social group
There are thousands of groups across the country that get together for the purpose of providing support and camaraderie. Whether you’ve recently lost a spouse or loved one, have cancer, or simply like to have coffee with friends, there’s probably a group near you. Go online to see if there’s a group in your area. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, head to your local senior center.
Volunteer
Volunteering for a cause you believe in not only introduces you to new people, it provides people with a sense of purpose. If you’re not sure how to start, visit volunteer.gov and look for opportunities in your area. Or find a local senior living community and offer your services, which could as simple as spending time with another human being.
Go online
If physical limitations make it difficult for you to leave home to connect with other people, do the next best thing – spend time with them online! A study conducted by University of Exeter researchers concluded that adults aged 60 to 95 who received computer equipment and training “had heightened feelings of self-competence, engaged more in social activity, had a stronger sense of personal identity, and showed improved cognitive capacity.”
Get a pet
Meaningful connection doesn’t have to be with another human to be beneficial. A study published in Aging & Mental Health showed that older adults who were pet owners were 36 percent less likely than non-pet owners to describe feelings of loneliness. Walking a dog can also be a great way to get some exercise and meet new people.
Meditate
While meditation doesn’t necessarily increase the possibility for socializing with others (unless you join a meditation group), it can ease the negative health effects of loneliness. A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University showed that eight weeks of the mindfulness meditation training decreased participants’ loneliness.
Make socializing a priority
Now that you know the importance of socializing, it needs to be something you actively pursue. Just like any health routine, it’s something you need to plan for and follow through on. Don’t wait until you hear from someone about going out – make the call yourself! Put “getting together with friends” at the top of your to-do list every day.

Categories: Geriatric Care

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