The Sneaky Hidden Virus Infecting Many Over 65

The Sneaky Hidden Virus Infecting Many Over 65

You may not realize it. There is a sneaky hidden virus which infects many people over 65 here in East Tennessee.  You don’t hear much about it. It has a tendency to creep up and become more pronounced as people age. For some it can have devastating health consequences.

What is this virus? It is . . .

. . . Loneliness

Research shows Americans are lonelier than they have ever been. It is believed that loneliness is more widespread and has a greater impact on older people than any other segment of the population.

Sadly, you can’t tell a person is lonely just by looking at them. It is felt loneliness may have the same effect on the body as stress.

It impacts Older Men and Women at Different Ages

Normally men experience loneliness at a younger age than women.  There are several reasons for this.

  • As they go through life, most men only have one or two good male friends. They have quite a few casual friendships. Many are men with whom they work or at other companies whom they deal with and they never get to know them well.
  • Very quickly after they retire, they suddenly find themselves with nothing to do. Their casual friendships have ended.
  • If they don’t have any hobbies or activities to fill their them, they spend their time at home watching television all day. They don’t spend extra time with the one or two friends they have because they don’t want to appear needy. After all real men are not needy.
  • Even those who are married cannot turn to their wives for help. During their marriages their wives have had their own lives and have done their own things. Their husbands cannot suddenly interrupt what they have always done.
  • Some have poor relationships with their wives. They just don’t communicate. They just can’t turn to them and talk openly about what they are experiencing. When they try, they end up arguing which pushes them apart and causes their loneliness to increase.
  • Men also don’t spend much time with their children or grandchildren.

Very quickly, these men start to get lonely. When not dealt with, it leads to depression or other physical conditions.

Frequently It Infects Women Much Later Than Men

Many times, it first occurs when the woman’s husband dies.  It’s worse in those cases where the husband’s health had been deteriorating for quite awhile and the woman had to give up more and more of her outside activities to care for him. Suddenly the widow now finds herself alone with no one to talk to or care for.

It also occurs when a woman’s friends start to die especially those she’s closest to. As each one dies, the impact is more devastating.

Loneliness sets in and can be overwhelming for them.

As men and women age, it’s common for them to see the number of friends they have grown smaller and smaller. If they happen to be very healthy, they may outlive all their friends only to be cursed by being the last survivor and experiencing resulting loneliness.

The Problem with Senior Living Centers,

Assisted Living Centers and Nursing Homes

Younger people think communities for those over 50 or 55, senior living centers, assisted living centers or nursing homes help prevent loneliness. They believe the people living in places like these don’t get lonely because they are surrounded by people their own age. Each has so many activities to keep the residents busy all of the time.

A closer look reveals many living here are frequently lonelier than people their age living elsewhere. Just because they’re surrounded by others their age doesn’t mean they make friends quickly or participate in the activities going on. Some never adjust to their new surroundings.

There is another severe problem at assisted living centers and nursing homes. Many residents have deteriorating medical conditions or disabilities which restrict their activity. They find themselves all alone. Their families and friends don’t visit frequently. The workers don’t have time to talk with them or become friends. Many are lonelier than they were before.

The Impact of Loneliness on Health

Prolonged loneliness can lead to other severe medical conditions.

The major one is depression. Sadly, many who are depressed won’t tell others about it. They remember the stigma associated with mental illness back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Back then people suffering from it were looked down upon. They fear that if the admit to being depressed, others will look down on them and draw away.

Loneliness can cause high blood pressure, heart disease and chronic lung disease. It also can aggravate diabetes.

How Do You Avoid Loneliness?

You may be saying to yourself, I see the negative effects loneliness can have on my health. I want to avoid that.  What can I do? Here are some suggestions.

  • First, keep active. Get involved with a hobby – something you enjoy.
  • Check out your local senior center and take part in the activities there.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable meeting new people on your own, volunteer for an organization. The Office on Aging of the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee has many different areas where you can help. Here are a few:

You might want to deliver mobile meals.

You can also drive for Volunteer Assisted Transportation.

If you like to work with children, consider becoming a Foster Grandparent in the school system.

For more information, contact Eden Slater in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. The phone number is 865-524-2786.

  • Take classes on subjects of interest to you.

A prior post focused on classes available at the University of Tennessee and Pellissippi State. To read that post, please click here.

The Knox County Library offers computer workshops. You can check what they offer by clicking here.

Each of the local senior centers also offer many different classes.

The one advantage to taking a class is you also have the opportunity to meet and make friends with the others in the class with you.

  • There are numerous Meet-up groups here in East Tennessee. (These are groups of people with the same general interests.) You can see what is available by clicking here.
  • Consciously build friendships with people younger than yourself. They will make you feel younger.

How Can You Help Others Avoid Loneliness?

You may be a younger person with a parent, friend or neighbor 65 or older and want to make sure they don’t become lonely. Here are some ways you can help them:

  • Visit them frequently. Talk to them about things of interest to them. Show them you care.
  • Go to a movie, shopping or out for a meal with them. Invite them to go with you to events you and you friends are going to attend.
  • Encourage them to get out and stay active. If they don’t have many friends, encourage them to volunteer to do something they’ll enjoy where they can meet new people.

At some point in your life, you probably have been lonely. You remember how that felt. Think back to that time. Intensify the feeling at least it ten times. Many over 65 are feeling that way today. Do all you can to avoid experiencing that yourselves and to help others to avoid feeling that way.