How to Overcome Loneliness?

How to Overcome Loneliness?
Posted on April 15th, 2023

Among the many health concerns that can befall seniors, loneliness is one of the most common and least discussed. With aging come a number of factors that contribute to isolation and loneliness, such as the deaths of spouses and close friends, family members moving away, and the onset of debilitating illnesses. Worse, loneliness itself can cause a number of health-related issues for seniors, including increased mortality risk, depression, cognitive decline, dementia, high blood pressure, and a number of other conditions. In this guide, our experts at St. Paul’s Senior Services discuss the negative health effects of loneliness in seniors. We also provide information on how to alleviate loneliness in seniors, as well as resources on our many services available to seniors across the greater San Diego area. Read on to learn more, and reach out to us today!

Senior Isolation and Loneliness: Statistics

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 28% of U.S. citizens aged 65 and older (a total of 11 million people) live alone. While living alone does not necessarily cause senior loneliness in all individuals, it is the single biggest contributing factor. This number is also likely to rise. The AARP reports that more and more adults are not having children, which means there will be fewer family members to provide company and care as adults become seniors.

Senior Isolation and Loneliness: Causes

As mentioned above, the biggest contributing factor to senior loneliness is living alone. However, there are several other factors that can lead to isolation and loneliness in seniors. These factors include:

  • The death of one’s spouse
  • Children moving away
  • A change in living environment
  • The deterioration of a friend network (often due to death)
  • The fear of becoming a burden
  • The fear of going out and incurring an injury
  • Difficulty communicating (i.e. language barriers and hearing problems)
  • Illness (particularly dementia)

Each of these factors can lead to increased loneliness among seniors. Increased loneliness can, in turn, lead to a number of serious health effects.

Negative Health Effect #1: Reduced Physical and Mental Health

While the first negative health effect covered on our list nearly goes without saying, it speaks to the broad scope of loneliness’s impact on senior health. Put simply, loneliness has a direct correlation to both physical and mental health, and this correlation is not a good one. A recent study conducted using data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project found that seniors who feel lonely and isolated are more likely to report also having poor physical and/or mental health. While the link between loneliness and overall health is still being discovered by the medical community, one thing is clear: Loneliness has a detrimental effect on health in a number of ways.

Another negative health effect caused by loneliness in seniors is the increased risk of mortality. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found both social isolation and loneliness to be associated with a higher risk of mortality in adults aged 52 and older. One hypothesis suggested that this result was due to the fact that seniors who live alone or lack social contacts are less likely to seek medical attention if acute symptoms develop due to a lack of prompting.

Negative Health Effect #3: Increased Risk of Cognitive Decline and Dementia

As a mental condition, loneliness has several negative effects on mental health. In seniors, these effects are most starkly seen as cognitive decline and the onset of various forms of dementia. Dr. John Cacioppo, a distinguished neuroscientist and psychologist at the University of Chicago who has been studying social isolation for more than 30 years, found in his many studies that perceived social isolation (i.e., loneliness) is a risk factor for, and may contribute to, poorer overall cognitive performance, faster cognitive decline, and the onset of dementia.

Negative Health Effect #4: Increased Risk of Depression

Perhaps one of the most intuitive effects of loneliness is its impact on mood. No matter the demographic group, loneliness is always associated with negative feelings including, but not limited to, sadness, pain, numbness, and low self-worth. As it turns out, feeling lonely is closely associated with symptoms of depression in adults and seniors. This suggests that feeling lonely may contribute to the onset of mental health issues such as depression or may exacerbate mental health conditions in those individuals where they are already present.

Negative Health Effect #5: Increased Risk of High Blood Pressure and Long-Term Illness

While loneliness is a condition of the mind, its impacts can be found in regions far beyond the brain. In fact, several studies have shown a link between loneliness and reduced physical health in seniors. One result of the PNAS study mentioned above was the correlation between loneliness and long-term illness. Seniors reporting loneliness were also more likely to suffer from long-term illnesses. Additionally, a study published in Psychology and Aging showed a direct relationship between loneliness in older adults and increases in systolic blood pressure over a 4-year period. These increases in blood pressure were independent of race, ethnicity, gender, and other possible contributing factors.

Senior Isolation and Loneliness: Spotting the Symptoms

With the many negative health effects of loneliness now clear, it’s evident that addressing loneliness is important for maintaining the health and well-being of any senior individual. In many cases, the first step to addressing loneliness is identifying it. If you believe that a senior in your life may be struggling with loneliness, look for these signs and symptoms:

  • Sadness or feelings of despair
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, socializing, or other daily activities
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Sleep disturbances and memory problems
  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
  • Neglect of personal hygiene and other routines

Tips for Reducing Senior Isolation and Loneliness

While loneliness can be incredibly detrimental to health, it can also be successfully alleviated through a number of activities and treatments. For many seniors, the increased presence of people is all that is needed to alleviate loneliness. This can be achieved in a number of ways, including by scheduling regular outings and visits with friends and family, attending senior activities in the community, volunteering, and making the move to an independent or assisted living community. Exercise is another excellent activity that can help alleviate senior loneliness. One study, discussed by Health Quality Ontario, showed that seniors reported greater well-being when regularly performing aerobic and low-impact exercises.

Here at Samaritan Care, we are proud to offer several activities and events to help seniors get involved in their community and lead happy and fulfilling social lives. One of our most popular programs, our Senior Day Program, gives seniors the chance to socialize with their peers and participate in a number of engaging activities.

According to WHO estimates, depression affects about 350 million people of all ages worldwide. While coping with depression is tough, it’s even more difficult to watch an aging family member struggle with it.

Our caregivers have come up with a list of 10 tips to make it easier for them to help an older adult deal with isolation and depression.

1. Treat sleeping problems

Many seniors who live alone are prone to sleeping problems, which can aggravate depression. To prevent serious depressive episodes, see to it that the older adult keeps a regular sleep schedule and doesn’t take daytime naps.

If the person suffers from sundowning or a sleep disorder, keep engaging activities or necessary medication close at hand.

2. Promote a sense of purpose

The struggle with depression is much tougher for people who’ve lost their sense of purpose in life.

To keep loneliness and brooding at bay, encourage the senior to take up a hobby such as knitting or gardening. You can also talk them into trying social pastime activities such as card playing, yoga, or volunteer work for a local charity.

3. Encourage social interaction

Don’t let your loved one deal with depression on their own; encourage them to visit friends and extended family, take part in group outings, and attend community events.

Studies suggest that an active social life improves physical, mental, and emotional health, which is especially important for the elderly struggling with loneliness and depression.

4. Keep them physically active

Research has found that physical activity can be a lifesaver for aging people. Gentle exercises such as walking, stair climbing, and age-appropriate workouts can help a senior stay in solid physical, mental, and emotional shape.

You can also encourage the depressed person to sign up for a group exercise class like yoga or tai chi; they might even make friends with like-minded peers.

5. Make sure they eat healthy

Dealing with an aging person’s depression is easier if you know what foods to serve them. Samaritan Care researches the person's metabolism and taste before putting together a meal plan that consists of fiber-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables, which are a must for seniors, as are whole grains and lean protein. We serve vegetables lightly cooked and minimize sugar, starch, and unhealthy fats.

6. Entrust them with a chore

Seniors who live alone often get caught up in a whirlwind of negative thinking. It would be great if you could entrust them with a meaningful responsibility.

For mobile seniors, a dog will make a perfect companion that will make them feel loved and needed, keep them physically active, and serve as a social lubricant.

7. Show them they’re loved

Love makes the world go round, and it can help keep a senior’s depression under control. Show aging seniors that you love and need them, listen to them, and encourage friends and family to hug them often

Expressions of love are especially important for widowed seniors, who need more support and affection to deal with grief.

8. Seek professional help

Decreases in appetite and behavioral changes can be a symptom of depression getting worse. Contact a mental health professional and sign the senior up for counseling if you suspect the disorder is getting out of hand.

The therapist may recommend antidepressants, but in less serious cases, alternative medicine like aromatherapy or occupational therapy may be a better option.

9. Keep an eye on pills

In case your depressed family member is using antidepressants, you should make sure they take medications regularly and obey the doctor’s orders in terms of dosage, lifestyle, and diet.

You may also need help manage medication. Remind them to take their daily dose and watch the medicine cabinet for signs of abuse or skipped doses.

10. Consider home care

For senior family members who are living independently, you can hire someone to check in on them once a day and help with day-to-day chores such as grocery shopping and bathing. That is what we do. If you would like to hear more, please call.


65+ in the United States: 2010. Loraine A. West, Samantha Cole, Daniel Goodkind, and Wan He. Current Population Reports. 2014. 

The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap: A Look at Future Declines in the Availability of Family Caregivers. Donald Redfoot, Lynn Feinberg, and Ari Houser. AARP Public Policy Institute.

Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and Health Among Older Adults. Erin York Cornwell and Linda J. White. US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 2009.

Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women. Andrew Steptoe, Aparna Shankar, Panayotes Demakakos, and Jane Wardle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). 2013.

Perceived Social Isolation and Cognition. John T. Cacioppo and Louise C. Hawkley. US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 2009.

Loneliness as a specific risk factor for depressive symptoms: cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Cacioppo JT, Hughes ME, Waite LJ, Hawkley LC, Thisted RA. US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 2009. 

Get in Touch for Premium Home Care Services

Reach out to Samaritan Home Care Partners, to discover how our dedicated team of caregivers can provide unparalleled support for you or your loved ones. Experience the comfort and convenience of professional care in the comfort of your own home. Contact us today to embark on a journey towards enhanced well-being and independence.