What comes to mind when you think of the biggest health conditions threatening senior men? Heart disease? Fatal falls? Alzheimer’s? Or maybe even the effects of smoking cigarettes? While these conditions threaten the health and safety of millions nationwide, they are not, believe it or not, the biggest threat to older men who live alone.
The one condition stands out from the rest, and involves neither physical nor mental disorders. Yet it is considered by many, including the surgeon general of the United States, to be the most prevalent health issue in the country.
That condition is loneliness.
The Dangers of Loneliness in Seniors
Considering that a third of adults aged 65 live alone and that half of adults live alone by the age of 85, it’s no wonder that so much attention has been recently drawn to the effects of social isolation. And with projections showing that 20 percent of the nation’s population will be 65 and older by 2030, the number of lonely men and women is only expected to increase.
But how exactly does loneliness affect your health?
According to a recent article, studies conducted since the 1980s have consistently proven that loneliness in seniors leads to an increased risk in numerous -- and oftentimes fatal -- conditions, including heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. One study even found that living alone can increase the risk of premature death by anywhere between 26 to 32 percent.
Some other health risks associated with loneliness in seniors include cognitive decline, decreased mobility, depression, arthritis, lung disease and high blood pressure. Unfortunately, the research also shows that men seem to be more prone to the symptoms of loneliness when it comes to their health.
The Rising Prevalence of Lonely Men
Although these health risks caused by loneliness in seniors do not discriminate based on gender, older men are much more likely to become socially isolated than women. There a few reasons why the number of lonely men is increasing:
- Living alone. Historically, women were more likely to live alone, but the number of men living alone has been steadily increasing since 1990.
- Difficulty forging friendships. Men typically have more trouble connecting with friends, leaving them lonely, especially after the death of a spouse. Women also have an easier time maintaining friendships over the phone while men benefit more from face-to-face interactions, which can be difficult to plan amid busy schedules.
- Lack of self-reflection. More often than not, lonely men don’t realize that they are lonely because they don’t want to admit it to themselves.
- The “elder orphan” phenomenon. The recently-coined term refers to an older adult who has no spouse, children or relatives to care for them, increasing the amount of time they spend alone.
- Uncertain of how to overcome loneliness. Many lonely men are simply unaware of how they can overcome loneliness, but luckily, there are many options available to you.
5 Ways to Overcome Loneliness
In order to ensure your health as you age, knowing how to overcome loneliness is essential. However, you must first be honest with yourself and acknowledge that what you are feeling is, in fact, loneliness. Remember that there is absolutely no shame in admitting it; it will ultimately help you recognize that social support is the key to beating loneliness.
After that, the next step is finding ways you can become more socially active. Luckily, there are plenty of activities you can enjoy with others that will help you overcome loneliness, such as:
- Look in your community. You don’t have to go far to combat the effects of loneliness in seniors. Most community centers offer a variety of activities and classes for you to choose from, such as crafts, games, cooking and even gardening.
- Designate a weekly activity. Whether you organize a game night, a game of golf or an outing at a nearby restaurant, making it part of your regular routine will give you something to look forward to each week.
- Sign up for a class. By taking a class at a local community college or junior college, you can prevent the cognitive decline that often accompanies loneliness in seniors. Plus, some centers even offer classes and curriculums specifically for seniors.
- Volunteer. Especially if you’re timid and uncomfortable in new situations, consider volunteering in your local community. It’s much easier to make new friends with strangers when you’re both working towards the same goal.
- Try something new. Do you want to start a new exercise routine but haven’t exercised in a while? Try going to a senior-friendly gym. Enjoy spending time in nature? Grab a pair of binoculars and start birdwatching. No matter what hobby you choose, invite a family member, friend or neighbor to join you in trying a new activity together.
24/7 Connections to the Help You Need
In addition to taking advantage of these activities that will help you overcome loneliness, it’s important to remember that living alone doesn’t have to prohibit you from maintaining your connections with the outside world. With a Medical Guardian medical alert system, you can request both emergency and non-emergency services, meaning that our operators can instantly connect you to a family member, friend or neighbor if you’re feeling lonely and would simply like someone to talk to.
Or on the other hand, should you ever fall or experience an emergency, EMTs will be immediately dispatched to help you. So no matter what kind of assistance you need, you’ll always have someone lend you a helping hand, even if you live alone. After all, with Medical Guardian, help is always the push of a button away.