The Music Man: Loneliness, Elders and How We Can Help

Every morning before leaving for work, I walked down the same apartment stairs. As I edged closer to the first floor, without fail, every day the soothing and melodic sounds of Glenn Miller would begin to fill my ears. The music grew louder until it reached a crescendo right in front of the door.  There was always a pull that made me want to stop. I never saw the elderly man who lived in the apartment. Never saw anyone come visit, never saw a car pull up and deliver groceries. The only signs of life came from the music that flowed from the apartment.

I never stopped to meet this man whose music unintentionally calmed me each morning. Never put his packages at his door, never stopped and offered to do some grocery shopping for him before a snowstorm. Looking back, I feel disappointed in myself that I didn’t.

How many of us have been in this position? Observed that an elderly neighbor didn’t have much social contact but either just had so much going on, figured that someone did in fact come to visit or that the elder didn’t want to be bothered, so instead did nothing.

I don’t say this to guilt trip anyone, but rather to bring attention to the fact that there are many elders in our community who are lonely, don’t get out of the house and don’t see many visitors. According to a study by the University of California 43% of elders’ report feeling lonely on a regular basis[1]. The AARP reports further startling statistics[2]

  • 17% of seniors (defined as aged 65 and over) are Isolated
  • 51% of seniors 75 and over live alone
  • Loneliness increases risk of death by 26%

 

Why are elders lonely? The reasons are many and different for everyone. Some elders feel like they’ve become secondary to their family and pushed aside, others are lonely because of a loss of any meaningful conversation and communication between them and their family and friends. To help gauge whether you or a loved one is at risk, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging has a self-assessment to help determine risk for loneliness and isolation.

What can we do about this problem? Connect2Affect, a website run by the AARP has an excellent info graphic detailing a variety of steps we can take broken down by what is the primary cause of the isolation and resulting loneliness.[3]

These suggestions are by no means the only steps that can be taken. Sometime small steps such as adopting a pet or taking up a new hobby can be a tremendous help. I know an elder who even uses skype to see and interact with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Looking at these suggestions and seeing how we can implement them among elders in our community, whether they are family, friends or neighbors is a good start and hopefully, provides some tools to use in order to translate education into action.

Would any of these tools have changed my actions toward my elderly neighbor who loved playing Glenn Miller? I can’t say, and hindsight is always 20/20. But I hope that next time I observe a elderly friend or neighbor who may be isolated and lonely, instead of walking right by, I instead make the decision to stop and reach out.

 

For Further Information

Connect2Affect

The Elder Loneliness Epidemic

Loneliness: A Growing Health Threat for Older Adults

Coping with Loneliness: Tips for Seniors

The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging Self-Assessment

[1] Botek, Anne-Marie. “The Elder Loneliness Epidemic.” AgingCare.com. June 21, 2012. Accessed May 3, 2017. https://www.agingcare.com/articles/loneliness-in-the-elderly-151549.htm.

[2] Connect2Affect “What is Isolation.” AARP. https://connect2affect.org/about-isolation/. Accessed May 2, 2017.

[3] Connect2Affect “What is Isolation.” AARP. https://connect2affect.org/about-isolation/. Accessed May 2, 2017.

Comments

Liz

2017-06-06 21:48:46 Reply

Great reminder about the power of a kind word or unexpected visit, in alleviating loneliness and wonderful resources too. Thank you!

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2017-07-06 13:26:09 Reply

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