Gray Loneliness: It’s Real

By: Martha Bonilla

As we age, we begin to experience a lot of losses.

Our children may have moved away. Our social circles become smaller as spouses, friends, and family pass away. We may be losing the ability to drive or remain as independent as we once were. 

All these factors can contribute to less social interaction and potential health issues.

While someone may choose to be alone to recharge, center, or reflect, gray loneliness is different. An older adult may feel undervalued or even forgotten. 

Socialization and the sense of belonging are basic human needs, and chronic social isolation and loneliness can be associated with long-term health problems as well. 

Here are a few ways to combat gray loneliness or intervene as necessary:

Put it on the daily agenda – Set time daily to reach out to a family member or friend to make a connection — a phone call, letter, email, or text.

Renew a hobby or find a new one – Now could be the time to warm up those vocal cords and join a church or community choir, join a book group, take a class, dust off your wood carving tools and put them to work, or explore an activity you didn’t have time to try but now do. 

Set new goals – Do you want to take a trip? Visit friends or family? Exercise? Perhaps you want to learn a new language or finish a degree you didn’t get to complete in your youth. Check off each goal as you knock them off your list and plan a mini celebration.

Volunteer – Volunteering not only benefits the community but also builds relationships and helps you feel connected to people and your community. Whether it’s reading to kindergarteners, helping in a hospital, museum, or YMCA, or working on committees to plan events, your helping hands could be a blessing to an organization.

Adopt a pet – A furry companion can help fill in the loneliness gap and give you a sense of purpose. If you are unsure about the long-term commitment, you also may consider fostering an animal or volunteering at the local animal shelter. 

Consider joining a retirement community – You can eliminate the home maintenance responsibilities and take advantage of all the options to have an engaging social life, make new friends, and be a part of a community. 

Martha Bonilla is a senior living counselor at CC Young Senior Living. Visit ccyoung.org or call 214-258-4000. 

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