Preventing loneliness in old age

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Loneliness is widespread among older people in Switzerland. And it can affect absolutely anyone. This makes it all the more important to recognise the signs early on if we want to prevent social isolation in old age.

Loneliness in old age? What the figures say

According to Pro Senectute, the national association that supports the elderly, 160,000 women and men in Switzerland over the age of 62 feel lonely. However, loneliness is by no means a phenomenon that mainly affects the older generation. Quite the opposite: according to a survey conducted by the Federal Statistical Office, the feeling of loneliness often decreases rather than increases with age. Young people are also badly affected. Specifically, 50% of women and men aged between 15 and 24 admitted to sometimes or often feeling lonely. In the over-65 age group, 32% of adults said the same. These figures date back to 2017, so the potential impact of the corona pandemic has not yet been factored in.

Being alone is not the same as being lonely

Unlike being alone, which is a choice we make and a form of solitude that is often viewed positively, loneliness isn't something we actively seek. Instead, various factors can lead to us gradually feeling lonely, especially when we become senior citizens. These include

  • our social network becoming smaller when we retire from work,
  • declining physical health,
  • and even the death of our partner.

All of which can eventually leave us with little or no contact with society. It's not unusual for increasing loneliness to be accompanied by health problems. According to Pro Senectute, older people who feel lonely not only have a lower life expectancy, they are also more likely to suffer from high blood pressure or depression. What's more, they are also more likely to develop Alzheimer's.

How to overcome loneliness

This makes it all the more important for those affected to recognise the signs of loneliness and break the cycle. There are numerous ways of doing so, for example:

  1. Rediscover your zest for life: Do something you know you'll enjoy, like cooking a delicious meal or going for a walk in the great outdoors and visiting your favourite place.
  2. Add some structure to your day: Lonely people often succumb to a certain lethargy and stop looking after themselves properly. So, add some structure to your day. Make sure you get enough sleep, don't neglect your personal hygiene and start eating regular meals.
  3. Seek out contact: Start seeking out contact with others – neighbours, acquaintances or (former) friends. Maybe you could even get involved in local community activities or take a course attended by like-minded people. The simple act of speaking with another person can be the first step towards staving off loneliness.
  4. Accept help: Even though it might be difficult to begin with: accept professional support. Because the longer you're alone, the harder it becomes to break the cycle of loneliness. Some organisations offer free, no-obligation advice.

How those around you can help

Relatives and neighbours can play an important role in helping if they notice that someone they know is affected by loneliness. They can approach the lonely person, take an interest in their situation, ask questions and encourage them to accept help. Broaching the subject in this way can often work wonders. Because many lonely people are no longer able to react to their situation and find a way out of it by themselves.

Numerous support organisations

There are lots of regional and cross-regional organisations that people suffering from loneliness can turn to for support. The Mein Ohr für Dich – einfach mal reden! association runs a free hotline on 0800 500 400 that anyone can call simply to enjoy a friendly chat or talk about their day-to-day worries with a trained listener. The infosenior.ch website, on the other hand, provides information on a host of events and services, including home-delivered meals and excursions for seniors. You can find a detailed overview and further contact details on the Pro Senectute website. It also features a documentary film entitled "Loneliness has many faces" (in German with Italian subtitles), in which seven people discuss how loneliness makes them feel and how they cope with it.

We’re here for you

Are you feeling lonely? Or do you know someone who is suffering from loneliness? Then don't hesitate to ask for help: our Health Coaches are here for you.

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