By Morey Stettner.
Over the last year, we isolated ourselves from each other to avoid a potentially deadly virus. Sadly, however, many older people had plenty of practice with social isolation well before COVID-19 entered the lexicon.
As we age, loneliness is a risk factor for physical and mental decline. Living alone with little external stimulation can lead you to forgo physical activity.
Add anxiety and depression to the mix and you’re looking at the possibility of a shorter lifespan. Not to rub it in, but loneliness is associated with a 40% increased risk of dementia, according to a 2018 study.
“Prevention needs to be the mantra,” said Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist at Miami Jewish Health in Miami. Taking proactive steps to combat loneliness engages the brain and raises the odds that you’ll tend to your personal needs—from maintaining good hygiene to taking your prescribed medications as directed.
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It takes courage to admit, “I’m lonely.” But that’s a first step in developing lifestyle habits to address the problem and fix it.
For starters, devise a plan to resist the pull of isolation. Realize that if you don’t do anything—if you wait around for others to contact you—you’re likely to perpetuate the status quo.
“Identify pathways to make new friendships,” said James Falvey, executive director of the Minneapolis chapter of Little Brothers—Friends of the Elderly, a nonprofit group that pairs volunteers with lonely seniors. Those pathways can include participating in community- or faith-based activities. Attending events at your local library or public input sessions at city council meetings may not come naturally to you, but they provide a chance to mingle and meet people.