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by Dr. Brittney Schrick - January 29, 2021
Although loneliness is not something only experienced by older adults, a lot of factors
make loneliness more likely for that group. Things like empty nest, children and other
relatives moving farther away, death of a spouse or close friends, and fewer opportunities
to interact with others socially can cause feelings of disconnection and loneliness.
The pandemic has made many of these factors even more difficult to cope with, especially
as older adults are at the highest risk of dying of COVID-19. Research shows that
loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of premature death among older adults
more than smoking, obesity, or physical inactivity.
Loneliness: The feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact.
Social isolation: Lack of social connections; can lead to loneliness in some people. (CDC, 2020)
Even though loneliness and social isolation are often used to mean the same thing,
they are, in fact, different. Sometimes, people feel lonely even when they are not
alone. This can be especially common among caregivers. You may never be alone, but you don't have anyone around to really talk to. This is an example
of social isolation that has caused loneliness.
Someone who has lost their spouse or close friends may feel very lonely but hesitate to ask for help.
Others may be alone or socially isolated but never feel lonely; however, even people who claim to be just fine alone all the
time often benefit from some social interaction. Humans are built to interact with
others, but every person's situation is different.
There are many factors to take into account when deciding to go out or to be around
others during a pandemic.
It is advised that you take risk factors into account:
* Driveway visit with family or friends: Wearing masks, sitting 6 feet apart, outdoors
* Join your “bubble” with someone else who is alone: If you and a neighbor or friend are both isolated and not interacting with anyone
else, you should be able to safely meet together with minimal precautions. If either one of you is meeting with others, this increases risk, and all precautions
should be taken.
* Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime with family members and friends: This can be done for the most mundane reasons or for a special occasion.