A pair of articles we’ve recently read tell an important story, one that should change the way we think about aging. In spite of an era in which we can connect with each other instantaneously, millions of seniors are living out their lives in isolation from regular human contact. The result, says one of the articles, is “an epidemic of loneliness” affecting older Americans. These articles should represent a challenge to each of us to reach out to the seniors around us, in our families, our churches and our neighborhoods. They also remind us not to allow ourselves to drift into isolation as we grow older.
Lonelier Than Ever
“We live in an age where we can communicate with friends and family members across the country and around the globe with a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a smart phone screen,” says the first article, this one from the website AgingCare. “However, despite advances in communications technology and the increasing connectedness it brings, research indicates that, as a society, we are lonelier than we have ever been. Perhaps no other age group feels the keen sting of loneliness more than the elderly.”
The AgingCare article contains some suggestions on how you and I can help loved seniors we care about overcome the scourge of loneliness, and we’ll cover those in a moment. But the second article, this one from Reuters, takes a slightly different tack. Instead of asking how we can help others avoid the pain of living life alone, the Reuters article gives us four ways we can avoid becoming lonely ourselves as we age. Both these articles warn that the effects of loneliness are not to be taken lightly. “The emotional impact of loneliness in retirement is obvious,” says Reuters, including “feelings of being isolated and misunderstood, with social interactions that lack meaning. But loneliness turns out to have financial ramifications as well.” For example, it turns out that the healthcare costs relating to loneliness are far greater than most people realize. “People who feel lonely are less healthy,” one physician told Reuters. “There are many studies linking loneliness to worsening heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression and substance abuse. In fact, health wise, loneliness is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
Steps You Can Take
As you consider your own retirement, what are some steps you can take to avoid becoming lonely? The Reuters article lists four:
- Move to a Retirement Community. “Retirement communities are a powerful alternative to retiring ‘in place’ in your own home,” the Reuters article states. “Staying in your home may initially sound appealing because of the comfort level with your surroundings, but it could eventually leave you very alone indeed, especially if you are struggling with physical disability.” We agree that while aging in place is typically the desire of most seniors, it isn’t always the best choice.
- Keep Working. “If you enjoy working, and your employer does not have any mandated retirement age, then by all means keep showing up at the office,” the article suggests. You’ll not only stay socially and mentally active, but you’ll also add to your retirement savings.
- Federal studies show that more than 21 million older Americans currently volunteer every year. “Volunteers live longer, have lower levels of disability and higher levels of well-being,” the Reuters article says. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself, and for your community.
- Create Social Checks and Balances. This suggestion relates to the increased danger of financial fraud caused by isolation. Retirees lose more than $36 billion each year due to scams and exploitation, most often perpetrated by someone they know well. “The best way to defend against being at the mercy of one person is by having multiple people in your corner,” Reuters “If you have church friends, childhood friends, extended family and volunteering friends – all looking out for you – it will be less likely you will be taken advantage of.”
Helping a Loved One Avoid Isolation
But what if the lonely person is someone you care about and don’t know how to help? Some of the ideas in the AgingCare article we mentioned earlier might be a good place to start. Helping, says the article, starts with listening and observing. “Encouraging [loved ones] to express themselves can help you discover what interests and passions lay dormant, just waiting to be rekindled,” experts recommend, but you may have to “dig deep” to get them to share their desires with you. Once they do, it’s time to develop a strategy to defeat seclusion by helping your loved one resume the activities they once enjoyed, or else try new ones. If the senior you’re concerned about has a particular skill, let them teach you, the AgingCare article advises: “For example, if your mother loves to embroider, ask her to teach you how to do it. This not only has the potential to be a great bonding experience, but it can also help restore a bit of balance to the child-parent dynamic that may have been lost once caregiving began.” Finally, another good way to combat loneliness is to bridge the generation gap by involving grandchildren and other younger relatives in visits with the senior you love.
There’s more content in both these articles and we recommend them as good places to start an important conversation. But what about the important conversation concerning retirement? Do you think you have a “retirement plan” in place just because you’ve set aside some savings? If you think that’s all there is to retirement, you’re in for some unpleasant surprises in the years ahead. Retirement planning done properly is a multi-faceted affair involving the interconnected relationship between finances, health care, housing, legal matters, and the dynamics of your family situation. Here at AgingOptions our comprehensive approach is called LifePlanning, and there’s nothing else like it for building true retirement security and peace of mind.
We invite you to learn more, without obligation, by joining Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar in a location that’s convenient for you. Bring your questions and come experience this information-packed session for yourself. Click here for upcoming dates, times and locations – then register online or give us a call. It will be the best investment of a few hours’ time you’ve ever made!
(originally reported at www.reuters.com and www.agingcare.com)