Loneliness and isolation a reality for thousands of Minnesota seniors

Published 9:38 am Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Guest Column by Deb Taylor

A new British study of loneliness and isolation among seniors is making waves on this side of the pond, too. The Age UK poll of 2,000 seniors found a 40 percent increase in loneliness among seniors in only the past year.

Deb Taylor

Deb Taylor

Ten percent of the seniors described themselves as often or always lonely.  Sadly, four in 10 said their pet or television was their main form of company.

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Across Minnesota, many thousands of seniors have no more than one or two social contacts per month. For some, the highlight of their day may be exchanging greetings with the postal carrier or the cable guy. Typically, these seniors live alone and may have family dispersed around the country or no family at all. They’ve suffered loss as friends have died.

Isolation is on our radar and must be addressed as Minnesota’s population grows older. In the next decade, one-fourth of Minnesotans will be age 65 or older. The number of seniors age 80 and older will triple.


Enjoying or enduring?

Among this aging population cohort, loneliness can not only make life miserable for the elderly, it can be corrosive to their health, making them more vulnerable to sickness and disease.

The incidence of mental illness among older adults is expected to significantly increase as the elder population increases. Depression among seniors is widespread and most often occurs in context with physical and psychosocial problems that beset this population.

While older adults comprise 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 18 percent of all suicide deaths. This is an alarming statistic, given that seniors are the fastest growing segment of the population, making the issue of later-life suicide a major public health priority, reports the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

The problem is further aggravated among seniors who are lonely and isolated with little or no social support. After hospitalization and treatment for major physical illness, as many as one-third of elderly patients are prone to depression.

Seniors living independently require some support to maintain a healthy, vital and joyful lifestyle. They need to stay engaged with their avocations, friends and family. This socialization enhances physical and emotional well-being and mental alertness, which help create a more connected and satisfying life.

Our senior centers accommodate a growing number of retirees who want to fellowship with friends, dine together, play cards, enjoy book clubs and take trips to shop or attend museums and ballgames.

Seniors living at home enjoy their independence, but in time, aging reduces their ability to handle some chores. Older adults may need volunteer help with routine tasks like yard duties or a low-cost Senior Community Services-contracted handyman for household maintenance. These helpful folks are always willing to offer a listening ear and an encouraging word.

I invite you to walk with us to strengthen our community by extending an old-fashioned sense of neighborliness, checking on and befriending the older adults and neighbors around us.

Together we can reimagine aging and ensure a healthy community for our oldest loved ones and neighbors so they are welcomed, loved and encouraged.

And that will benefit us all.


Deb Taylor is CEO of Senior Community Services and the Reimagine Aging Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for Minnesota’s older adults and helps seniors and caregivers maintain their independence. Visit www.seniorcommunity.org for more information.