We’re a few months removed from holiday films, something that many of us can’t get enough of.
Sure it seems like there are always feel-good movies all year round these days, especially on the Hallmark Channel. But the ones we watch during the Christmas season really do pack in a lot of ‘feel goodness’ and general heart-warming sentiment.
One particular favorite is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” an uplifting story about how a man learns how much he means to his community. Throughout the film we see George Bailey working hard to make sure others around him have what they need, and then show that they’re more than happy to come together and repay him when George has a moment of need.
There are some great messages in the movie about the value each of us have in our world. And there’s a clear contrast between George being surrounded by friends and family and Mr. Potter, the antagonist, who is bitter and miserable and NOT surrounded by loved ones.
For a long time, people thought loneliness was something that people experience that isn’t much fun but doesn’t go far beyond this.
But newer research has been showing that loneliness can have all sorts of negative impacts on someone’s life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shared that loneliness and social isolation can lead to all sorts of challenges, including health conditions and a higher risk of dementia. Older adults are at a higher risk for a variety of factors: they may be unhappy with their health, they may have fewer friends and family around compared to earlier in life and they may have difficulties getting out and being around people.
This can include mobility challenges where it might be difficult to walk around very far or very long, or it could include other problems like hearing loss or vision loss which may limit their activities or levels of confidence.
The CDC does point out that there are differences between social isolation, which is a lack of social connections, and general loneliness, where you just feel like you’re by yourself.
Untreated isolation can lead to general loneliness, and general loneliness can lead to higher rates of depression; higher risk of heart failure, stroke, and death; as high as a 50 percent risk of dementia, and a higher chance of needing medical services.
At higher risk are members of already marginalized communities, such as immigrants, or LGBTQ, since these both already create larger barriers to access.
The National Institute on Aging backs this up, sharing that connecting to others is vital to our overall health and as much as we don’t always want to be around people, loneliness can lead to all sorts of negative effects.
Ways to help
If someone is experiencing loneliness, there are ways to offer access to local, state, or national resources. Getting out there might not feel easy for everyone at first, especially if they have become generally comfortable staying at home, finding ways to avoid people, or convincing themselves that everything is fine.
There are a variety of ways to expose someone to people without being too frightening or direct about it.
- Find a support group. Just about every community has some kind of organization where they encourage people in similar situations to come together. This may be people facing the same health condition or have gone through the same circumstances, such as those who have lost a spouse.
- Find opportunities to volunteer. Every non-profit and charity welcomes volunteer help so it’s likely there’s a political or social cause that can interest you. Giving back in this way presents plenty of benefits. You’ll have the chance to assist a project that interest you and you’ll likely connect with people with similar views and values – and perhaps other volunteers.
- Go back to school. Many accredited colleges and universities allow seniors to audit classes for a low fee. This could be a chance to learn about some topics you may not have been able to take earlier in life and maybe meet some fellow students in the process. Auditing also means you won’t have full academic pressure either.
- Explore available care options. Even if it’s difficult for you to get out of the house, you still can look into ways people can come visit you and provide some connection. Is there a local food delivery program? Does your insurance provide the services of an occasional nurse, aide, massage therapist or other specialist? Some of these services also might include transportation to appointments or help at the grocery store.
- Find where your peers go. If you’ve been isolated for a while, you might not know if there’s a place where others may visit regularly. Is there a senior center that offers social activities? Is there a local lodge like the Eagles, Elks or Moose? Many of these traditional organizations are always searching for members.
The act of going out and making friends, at least colleagues, can provide some beneficial connections. It might even strengthen other relationships if you find somewhere you can bring more of your family and friends together.
If you’re looking for other tools to connect, February is a great time to do so. It’s official Relationship Wellness Month, an opportunity to cultivate any type of connection, from a simple friend to something more romantic