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Senior Isolation Doesn't Have To Be 'Inevitable'

Loneliness is a common — and dangerous — health risk, but it isn't always recognized as one. Some people think that becoming lonely and depressed is inevitable as they get older. This is simply not true. The capacity and need for friendship does not diminish with age, and seniors with healthy social networks can continue living rich, full lives well into their golden years.

Loneliness isn't just a feeling — it's a physical stressor that can wreak havoc on your health. That's the conclusion that more and more researchers are coming to as they study the effects of chronic loneliness and isolation.

People who go through life without much support and companionship from friends and family are more likely to suffer a variety of health consequences, both physical and mental.

Lonely people are less resilient than people with healthy social lives. They're more likely to get sick, and they're less well-equipped to deal with mentally and emotionally stressful situations. Someone who suffers from chronic loneliness is at risk for lowered cognitive function, mood problems like depression, and addiction to alcohol or drugs. Loneliness is also believed to cause chronic inflammation throughout the body, which contributes to health problems like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's, and cancer.

Loneliness can strike anyone at any age. However, seniors — and senior men in particular — are at especially high risk for chronic loneliness and all the complications that go with it. That's why preventing loneliness in seniors should be an especially high priority for home caregivers and people with senior family members.

Why senior men suffer from loneliness the most

Senior men are often unprepared to deal with the boredom and isolation of post-retirement life. This may change with the next generation, but the current generation of senior men grew up in a society in which men were often the breadwinners. For many, going to work every day provided a built-in social network and sense of purpose.

After retiring, many senior men find themselves feeling idle and unfulfilled, unless they make an effort to find new productive things to do with their time. Over time, these feelings of boredom and isolation turn into full-blown chronic loneliness.

Single men and widowers are especially prone to loneliness. It's common for men to rely on their spouses to maintain their joint social life throughout their marriage. Men who outlive their spouses often don't know how to keep participating socially once they are alone. And if single or widowed senior men don't get out of the house much, it's a recipe for boredom, depression, and deteriorating health.

Loneliness does not get better on its own

Fixing it requires a person to change their attitudes and habits, which is usually difficult to do alone. But many lonely senior men struggle with reaching out for help, even when they realize that their loneliness is a problem.

Asking for help — especially emotional help — feels like a sign of weakness to some men. Moreover, chronic loneliness is stigmatized, and many people don't want to admit that they're feeling isolated. Organizations like Haven Toronto look to change this; to reduce the stigma associated with loneliness.

Haven Toronto is a drop-in centre for elder men impacted by poverty, homelessness and isolation. The only centre in Canada dedicated to elder men age 50+, Haven Toronto serves thousands annually. Open every day, all year, including major holidays, the drop-in centre provides meals, access to housing and crisis counsellors, and an outlet for engagement and socialization.





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