Seniors and the impact of loneliness and isolation

August 13, 2015 by Martine Rodrigue


First of all, we must separate the notion of loneliness from that of isolation. We consider a person to be experiencing isolation when they are remote from their social network (relatives or friends) for various reasons. This is an objective fact: the person is alone. 

Loneliness is a more subjective state. Researchers that have investigated this question agree to say that social isolation does not necessarily lead to loneliness. Conversely, being surrounded by relatives and friends is not a bulwark against loneliness either.

Experiencing loneliness is a painful and negative situation that can lead to anxiety, boredom or a bad mood, for instance. The feeling originates from the way the person perceives her actual social network — whether it is flawed or not — and this leads to an imbalance between actual and desired social relations. Several factors can lead to the development of loneliness, of which widowhood, health conditions, physical disabilities or poor social skills.

Because of the pain generated by loneliness in some elderly people, it is important to identify it and also pinpoint its causes in order to better act on them. Sometimes, the sole fact of making transportation available or addressing a sight or hearing problem is enough to solve the issue. Plus, motivating these people to participate in support groups (i.e. bereavement support groups) or coaching them in the development of a new social network can also prove effective.

To conclude, let’s keep in mind that it is possible for a person to feel alone in a crowd, just as it is possible for someone to be very comfortable living the solitary life they have chosen. We need to listen to the needs expressed by our elderly people, because they are in the best position to identify them. After that, it’s up to us to act on it.

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