Stuck at home constantly, little interaction with friends and family, and bored of the same routine day after day? This sounds all too familiar in what has been the most unfamiliar of years, and the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic has been a struggle for most. However, for some, these feelings, sadly, are nothing new.
According to The Mental Health Foundation (UK), people who experience greater social connections with family, friends, and even strangers, are more likely to live healthier, longer lives and avoid developing mental health issues, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. This is even more important as we age. With many elderly members of our society at significant risk of isolation, now more than ever, here are five signs that someone you love might be experiencing the devastating effects of chronic loneliness:
When faced with a void in their social interactions, it is normal for a person to try to fill that space with other things. Presented with feelings of loneliness and boredom, it is not uncommon for people to divert their efforts towards new habits or hobbies, sometimes excessively, and sometimes at the expense of other things, like self-care (see point 3 below).
This may be as subtle as buying lots of ‘useless’ or non-essential items, from trinkets to newspapers (a particularly common purchase as it can give the person some sense of ‘connection’ with the outside world). Frequently, you will hear the rationale that “it was on sale” or “it was a bargain” as justification for the purchase, even if the person subsequently cannot adequately explain a need for the item(s) in question.
An increase in contact is a more obvious cry for help but, while it may seem counter-intuitive for anyone feeling isolated, those experiencing solitary feelings can actually pull away from others instead, both physically and emotionally.
As loneliness becomes the norm in their lives, they can turn inwards and become increasingly reclusive. It is easy to mistake this behaviour for someone simply preferring their independence or self-reliance, but it is a common defence mechanism designed to block out the world that they feel ‘doesn’t want or value them’. One sign that this may be happening is if communication with a person becomes more infrequent or irregular.
For example, if they used to call or visit once a week, and it slips to once a fortnight, once a month, or even only when prompted, this may be a tell-tale sign that loneliness is an issue.
Along the same lines, if your conversations with that person never get beyond a surface level – if there’s no deep thought or feeling in anything they talk about – then this too can be a sign that they are lonely and feeling depressed.
When lacking the social interaction to keep you active, engaged and mentally and emotionally fulfilled, it makes sense that those hours aren’t exactly ones you look forward to. In such a situation it is natural for a person to try to shut out the world around them, and therefore find themselves sleeping more. It is a vicious, self-propagating cycle, and the more they sleep, often the more tired they become.
Typically, this sleep will also be restless or broken. Once a poor sleeping routine has become established, it can be awfully hard to break.
Those who are lonely can sometimes feel as though they aren’t ‘worthy’ of attention from others, or that they’ve simply been forgotten. This can be extremely damaging to their mental health and sense of self-worth. In these situations, people can then find that they don’t take proper care of themselves as they may feel like they don’t ‘matter’ and their motivation to do so dwindles.
When it comes to more senior members of society who perhaps may already have physical difficulty in taking care of themselves, the problem can become exacerbated.
Once the motivation to take good care of themselves wanes, other necessities, such as eating well, can fall by the wayside too. This is particularly damaging in elderly people as, according to the NHS, a lack of proper nutrition and hydration can lead to weight loss, headaches, low blood pressure, fatigue, confusion, dizziness, and a whole host of other debilitating symptoms.
Even the body’s ability to fight off relatively minor ailments, such as colds, can become a lengthy ordeal. One subtle sign of malnutrition may be the wearing of unusually baggy or bulky clothing for the time of year, as the person affected attempts to hide the weight loss, or even just retain heat.
Although many of us experience loneliness at one time or another, it is often overlooked or dismissed. Because our society prides itself on self-reliance, loneliness can carry a stigma. Many elderly people may not want to admit that they are struggling on their own either, as a sense of pride in their independence overwhelms their need for help.
At Groveland Park, our care home (based in Bexleyheath, Kent) can help offer a safe, enriching social environment for our residents while maintaining their sense of independence and self-pride. Coupled with expert in-house chefs, and a hotel-like experience, you can rest assured that your loved one is getting the best.