Oak Street Health is part of CVS Healthspire™


Loneliness in Older Adults: Ideas for Coping with Loneliness

Written by 
Molly Burford
Reviewed by 
Emanuel Singleton, NP

Article at a glance

  • After age 65, people tend to experience more feelings of loneliness for a variety of reasons including being more socially isolated.

  • Prolonged loneliness and isolation are associated with a number of poor outcomes in both regards to physical and mental health. This is why it’s so important to combat loneliness. 

  • There are various ways to connect more with others and foster positive relationships that can help alleviate feelings of loneliness.

group of people smiling together while sitting near the table

Feeling lonely from time to time is a normal component of the human condition. However, prolonged bouts of loneliness can lead to a number of health issues, both physical and mental. Human connection is vital to one’s quality of life.

Loneliness impacts young people as well as older people, especially during what has been coined an epidemic of loneliness.” That said, loneliness can particularly affect older adults after age 65. This has become even more of an issue since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic due to social distancing as well as the health risks associated with socializing due to the virus. 

This article will discuss strategies for coping with loneliness as an older adult specifically as well as general information about loneliness and tips to overcome loneliness.

a woman with gray hair sitting on a bed

The Biology Of Loneliness

Just like humans hunger for food and thirst for hydration, loneliness is a signal for social connection. From an evolutionary perspective, human beings require social ties for survival. While people are no longer hunting and gathering as a means of living, having solid social ties is still vital for health because it provides us with community and extended resources.

The Mental And Physical Health Effects Of Feeling Lonely

Feeling lonely on a regular basis can impact both mental and physical health in numerous ways. 

Mental Health Effects 

Loneliness can impact one’s psyche and cause a number of mental health problems such as: 

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Dementia

  • Cognitive decline

Physical Health Effects

Studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation can increase one’s risk for a variety of health problems such as: 

  • Heart disease

  • Obesity

  • High blood pressure

  • Weakened immune function

  • Poor sleep

  • Death

Because of the mental and physical health risks, seeking social support is vital to one’s overall wellness.

How Loneliness Affects Older Adults

Vulnerable older adults are at a higher risk for both social isolation and loneliness for a number of reasons. According to The National Institute on Aging, older adults are more prone to experiencing isolation and feelings of loneliness because of the social and health changes that often occur with aging such as hearing issues, vision problems, memory loss, disability, transportation difficulties, and the loss of family and friends.

woman with gray hair doing group workout class

Tips For Coping With Loneliness

There are a number of strategies that can help combat loneliness and infuse more connection in daily life. 

Find a Hobby 

Finding a hobby is a fantastic way to make more social connections. Taking a class in your chosen activity can also help you meet new people with similar interests and broaden your social circles.

Note: For more ideas on social activities for seniors, visit this source.

Schedule Regular Socializing 

Making plans to spend time with family members and friends is another great option for increasing socialization. Having a standing lunch date, for example, can give you something to look forward to each week.

Embrace Technology

Technology can be a helpful tool to help people feel less lonely. Contacting people online through social media and video calls is an easy way to stay connected.

Community Activities

Finding activities in the community can help foster stronger social relationships. 

Use Eldercare Locator

Eldercare Locator is a program that connects people to services for older adults as well as their family members. This can include transportation to treatment facilities, support groups, and more.

Practice Self-care

Practicing self-care is vital for overall well-being. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, and keeping up with health appointments.

Avoid Comparing

Especially on social media, it’s easy to believe that people online have a better social life than you do, but try to remember that social media is merely a highlight reel and never tells the full story.

Talk to a Healthcare Professional

Health care providers, such as therapists, can help make navigating difficult feelings such as social anxiety and loneliness easier. They can teach coping skills for the times one may feel lonely and improve emotional health and wellness. 

Daily Connections

Even if it’s just a brief conversation with the grocery store clerk, a neighbor, or the mail person. Social interaction of any kind can help anyone experiencing loneliness feel connected and less alone.

Be Honest

Talk to a family member, friend, or another trusted person about feelings of loneliness. Everyone knows what it is like to feel lonely and you may be surprised to find people are more than willing to help you cope with those difficult feelings.

While everyone experiences loneliness from time to time, prolonged bouts of loneliness can be detrimental to physical and mental health which is why being open and talking about your feelings with people you feel comfortable with is so vital. 

woman in blue button-down shirt smiling in front of camera

Resources for a Lonely Person or Their Loved Ones

It’s normal to have bouts of loneliness or sadness but if it begins to linger, it’s vital to talk with someone and get help. 

Find a Therapist in Your Area

Call Centers

Text Hotlines

Become a patient

Experience the Oak Street Health difference, and see what it’s like to be treated by a care team who are experts at caring for older adults.

Related articles

View all articles

Get access to care, right in your neighborhood.