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Loneliness in old age

Tips against loneliness in old age

Limited mobility, friends who fall ill or die, relatives who have little time or who live far away: the reasons for loneliness in old age are diverse. But there is a lot that can be done about it. Some things are not possible in the Corona crisis, but you can already think about what could help you and make appropriate contacts.

Have the courage to network

If you don't dare to seek contact in your real environment, you can start with it in the virtual world. On networks such as nachbar.de or nextdoor.de, for example, you can communicate with the immediate neighborhood in the neighborhood and find out all the news.

Offers such as Feierabend.de or seniorentreff.de bring like-minded people together. So networked, loneliness has no chance in old age - whether corona contact restrictions or not.

Anyone who is not familiar with online use can take appropriate courses at the adult education center or ask children, grandchildren or other friendly people for an introduction.

Use charitable offers: When nobody is there to talk (at the moment), people over 60 years of age can use offers such as Silbernetz. Volunteers are available every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for a short phone chat on 0800/4708090 - this can also be done anonymously if the caller prefers it.

Get involved on a voluntary basis

If you are still physically fit enough, volunteering can give you meaning and contacts. This can be services in a world shop, helping with a board or taking on a task in a (sports) club on site. This gives structure and the feeling of doing something useful, of being needed.

Move into a multigenerational house

There are currently around 540 federally funded multigenerational houses in which people of different ages live together and create space for joint activities or promote them through appropriate offers.

Use a visit service

Volunteers are involved in aid organizations such as the Maltese, but also in initiatives such as "Kölsch Hätz", who, on request, give time and attention to those in need or to lonely people.

Loneliness in old age: what relatives can do

One possibility, as a relative, to take away the feeling of loneliness from loved ones at least a little, is to be implemented from almost anywhere in the world: digital communication.

According to the German Age Survey 2019, at least around 40 percent of 79 to 84-year-olds in this country have an Internet connection and use it. This opens up various options for them and their relatives, especially in times of the Corona crisis, for example:

Brain jogging - this is how it works

  • Train your brain

    Do you keep forgetting where you left your key? Or do you often meet someone on the street who greets you happily - and you couldn't remember their name? This is completely normal - especially from the age of 40. The good news: Our memory can be trained with a wide variety of methods well into old age. Prof. Christoph Bamberger from the Medical Prevention Center in Hamburg reveals the best forgetfulness killers.
  • Tip 1: Don't multitask

    Unique-Tasking - and not, as many might think, Multi-Tasking - trains memory. Nothing ends up in long-term memory if we let ourselves be distracted by many things in parallel. Because the brain cannot then decide what to store. The better we focus on something, the more likely we are to remember it. So don't leave the TV on all the time, listen to music or check your e-mails every three minutes.
  • Tip 2: go new ways

    A study with London taxi drivers showed that they had certain brain structures that differed from those of bus drivers: the so-called hippocampi. These brain structures are particularly important for long-term memory. With taxi drivers, these brain areas were larger - apparently because they constantly have to memorize new paths. Just try a new jogging route or a new way to get to work.
  • Tip 3: Staying cool finds memory uncool

    We remember things particularly easily when they are connected with emotions. Experiences that we laugh or cry about are more likely to burn into our minds than neutral incidents. So don't try to suppress your feelings, just let them run free.
  • Tip 4: bundle information

    Scientists have found that humans can remember a maximum of seven units. For example a sequence of seven numbers or letters or a shopping list with seven items. Turn rows of letters into words, numbers into stories and divide your shopping list into things you need for breakfast, dinner or the bathroom.
  • Tip 5: rack your brains

    When people are asked at dinner today: What's the name of our current Pope again? - then everyone googles the answer with their smartphone. But if we always look up everything online without thinking first, our gray matter becomes lazy. Every now and then, resist the impulse to pull out your cell phone immediately.
  • Tip 6: Read actively

    Reading stimulates your brain. Don't just let the story wash over you, be an active part of it. The training can be increased by trying to remember certain things: What are the main characters called? Who is the author Have I read any other books by this author? The same works of course with films or plays.
  • Tip 7: Laughter makes the brain grow

    It's not that easy to make someone laugh. But if you do it, you have achieved a lot: Neuroscientists have shown that laughter not only puts you in a good mood, but also has a positive effect on our memory - new nerve connections are formed. Surround yourself with people to laugh with, fool around with your friends or partner, or watch a comedy show.
  • Tip 8: switch languages

    When we remember vocabulary and idioms in another language, our memory system runs at full speed. You don't even have to attend a language course; you can easily incorporate this into everyday life. Agree with your partner or a friend that you will communicate in another language for an hour. "Bad English" is perfectly fine for this exercise. You will probably have a lot to laugh about and benefit twice over (see tip 7).
  • Tip 9: change your everyday life

    Do you remember what you did in April four years ago? Probably not. Because the same thing always happens in everyday life, we quickly forget about it. Think about alternatives to habitual behavior: will I watch the crime scene tonight or do I go to the cinema for a change? Will I have bread again for breakfast or maybe muesli today? Roll it out: an even number means the familiar, an odd number an alternative. Throwing the dice brings tension (emotions) into play (see tip 3).
  • Tip 10: Sport connects nerve cells

    The adult brain is also constantly changing: nerve cells, more precisely their so-called synapses, keep reconnecting. Physical exertion can encourage this. Both endurance training such as cycling or jogging and strength training are good for the brain. But coordination sports are most effective. How about a dance class?
  • Tip 11: avoid chronic stress

    A little bit of stress makes us remember things better. Later on, we will not remember the relaxing day as well as the one on which our wallet was stolen. But when we have stress for months or even years, more cortisol is released instead of the pick-me-up adrenaline. And this stress hormone is problematic for memory in the long run. It shrinks the hippocampi, which are responsible for memory.

Make social media accessible

It is often an obstacle and deterrent for older people to have to create an account and set up a profile. Relatives can also help here from afar. Currently, only 19 percent of people aged 65 and over use social networks, and they are a quick and comparatively easy way to keep in touch with loved ones.

Make "video meetings"

Depending on whether a smartphone or a laptop with the appropriate function is available, elderly people and their relatives can meet for a video chat over coffee, the grandparents can see the grandchildren and even dinners can be organized - possibly including cooking at the same time same court!

Anyone who would like to maintain or initiate contact in the same way also has various options:

Initiate telephone circles

Yes, everyone has their everyday life and everyone has a lot to do. If you do not have the time (or would like to take it) to call parents, grandma or grandpa at least once a week, you can work out a sequence of when and who will call with your siblings and other relatives. So the called person has regular contact with people close to him and the risk of loneliness in old age can be minimized with little expenditure of time.

Tinker and send gifts

Anyone who has (small) children who cannot or only rarely see their grandparents at the moment or because of spatial separation, can paint pictures with them for grandma and grandpa, which then end up in their mailbox as a small greeting by post. Tinkering and sending cards is also a nice way of saying “I'm thinking of you”.

Recognize loneliness in old age

It is very difficult for those in the environment, which often do not live in the same place or even in the same country, to notice early on that an elderly person is feeling lonely. You should be clairaudient when your loved ones

  • hardly have anything to say on the phone,
  • spending a lot of time in front of the television judging by the topics of conversation,
  • When asked about previous activities such as gymnastics meetings or game evenings, statements such as “I don't do any more” are consistently made.

Even if all of a sudden there is hardly any fresh food left in the refrigerator or if the person concerned no longer values ​​a well-groomed appearance, this can indicate that they hardly go outside and feel lonely. Then relatives or other people in the vicinity can and should speak to the person concerned calmly and cautiously. Because loneliness can have serious consequences.

Loneliness in old age: causes of loneliness

Often there is no single cause for loneliness in old age. It's a process. For example, physical limitations occur more frequently with age: dizziness when standing, pain in the joints when walking, hearing loss.

All of this doesn't exactly motivate you to go outside and make contact. For fear of not being able to cope with a distance or not being able to follow a conversation, many older people prefer to stay at home.

Thinned out circle of acquaintances

In addition, the social network is thinning: Often friends and acquaintances of a similar age are no longer as mobile, sick or have already died. Children and relatives have their own everyday life and rarely come by. According to a project report by the Ruhr University Bochum (Bücker & Luhmann, 2019), 23 percent of the very old receive visits from relatives less than once a month.

Social contact crumbles in different places - often at the same time. And even if, according to the Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ), the risk of loneliness in old age has not increased in recent decades, it will be in the coming years simply because people are getting older more and more elderly people who feel lonely.

The German Center for Aging (DZA) assumes that the group of 80 to 90 year olds will double by 2050. Exactly the group that is particularly vulnerable to loneliness.

Contact restrictions in the corona crisis

Contact restrictions like in the times of Corona, however necessary they may be, since according to the current state of knowledge older people belong to the risk group, the feeling of loneliness in old age can still be felt. For many it is not easy not to be allowed to see children and grandchildren, especially since there is not always the possibility of video telephony or an Internet video call.

Consequences of loneliness and isolation in old age

Loneliness in old age can have psychological and physical effects. And the consequences are manifold.

Lack of meaning in life

Often old people no longer receive positive confirmation from others or do not notice them because they hardly maintain contacts or take on social tasks. This gives the feeling of not being needed, of being superfluous.

Budding fears

People who feel lonely often feel a great deal of insecurity and perceive their environment as more threatening. For fear that something negative will happen, they withdraw even further.

Loneliness as a health risk

Those who sit almost exclusively at home no longer receive any suggestions from outside and do not move enough: this affects the joy of life and health. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases, as does the likelihood of developing depression. The risk of dementia also increases.

Lonely or alone?

Not everyone who is socially isolated is lonely, and not everyone who feels lonely is socially isolated. The terms “social isolation” and “loneliness” describe different phenomena. The former means that there is de facto little or no contact with other people. But that does not have to be a psychological burden on the person.

Loneliness, on the other hand, is a subjective sensation. You can also feel lonely in the midst of people, for example because you don't notice me or you don't understand me. For example, an elderly person can live in a supervised residential complex, where they see their neighbors every day and perhaps even have the opportunity to have a coffee party together, and still feel lonely. Loneliness is the unpleasant feeling of not having the social relationships that are necessary or desired for one's own well-being and the feeling of belonging.

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