After over a year of adhering to COVID-19 safety regulations, amidst a pandemic that continues to exacerbate feelings of isolation, loneliness and its impact on health is a rising concern. This is especially true in the case of senior citizens, who are inherently more prone to being isolated due to their living conditions.
Senior citizens’ experiencing loneliness is not new, by any means.1 Researchers have observed the effects of both loneliness and, conversely, companionship on human lives for years, and it has been agreed that relationships directly impact one’s health throughout their lifespan.2 More specifically, fostering meaningful connections with others has a positive effect on quality of life, life satisfaction, and, perhaps most importantly, cognitive function.3
December is a month full of traditional holiday celebrations observed internationally. For some, the existence of socially-oriented events can be a harsh reminder of their lonely life. Senior citizens, in particular, tend to experience negative feelings if they do not have access to the same social circle they once spent time with.
As a caring family member, friend or volunteer, there are a few things you can do to make senior citizens feel happy, included and loved as the holiday season approaches. Perhaps the most important thing is to first and foremost determine what the senior citizen in question is comfortable doing — would they prefer to be included in a festive celebration or to be visited by a few family members? It is important to understand what a senior citizen would actually enjoy doing, especially if they are struggling with cognitive decline and may not be fully comfortable interacting with others in major social settings.4
Inviting a senior citizen to go out and spend time away from their usual environment, if possible, may be a great way to spark joy in their day. And if going out is too burdensome on them, simply providing them with a fun and engaging activity that they are excited to participate in can greatly impact their day. Even just having meaningful conversations and making a senior laugh can have a great impact on their mental health.
Finally, it can be meaningful to send a small, positive gift to a family member during the holiday season. As gift-giving is part of many holiday traditions, including an older family member by giving them something special can act as a reminder that they are loved and appreciated, even if they physically cannot participate in any celebrations. A gift doesn’t have to be extravagant — in fact, something homemade or related to you or your family will probably bring the most happiness to a senior citizen’s day.5
1. Grenade, Linda, and Duncan Boldy. “Social isolation and loneliness among older people: issues and future challenges in community and residential settings.” Australian health review : a publication of the Australian Hospital Association vol. 32,3 (2008): 468-78. doi:10.1071/ah080468
2. Yang, Yang Claire et al. “Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 113,3 (2016): 578-83. doi:10.1073/pnas.1511085112
3. “Strengthen Relationships for Longer, Healthier Life.” Harvard Health, 18 Jan. 2011, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/strengthen-relationships-for-longer-healthier-life.
4. Garcia, Julie. “How to Help a Lonely Older Adult during the Holidays.” Baylor College of Medicine Blog Network, 7 Nov. 2022, blogs.bcm.edu/2022/11/08/how-to-help-a-lonely-older-adult-during-the-holidays/.
5. Doukeris, Valentina. “Fighting Holiday Loneliness.” Conversations to Remember, 01 Dec. 2021, conversationstoremember.org/fighting-holiday-loneliness/.