Almost 30% of Americans over the age of 65 live alone. This is as a result of spousal death, divorce or choice. In the grand scheme of things, that just doesn’t seem like a big (or bad) number. How can anyone predict whether the loneliness older adults feel is acute or chronic?
Acute= Missing the camaraderie of another being
Acute loneliness can be fixed. A friend can visit from the condo down the hall, a walk through the park can cure the doldrums of a boring afternoon and a call from the kids can lighten the day. Chronic loneliness is a different story. It’s hard to ‘fix’ feeling alone. With no social network developed–or even WITH a social network–how can one expect the feeling of being alone to abate?
Webster’s defines ‘alone’ as being separate from others. This idea of being separate from others is often one that is impossible to change. If, after years of being interdependent on co-workers, spouse and other family, the status of an individual changes because of death, retirement or other life change, they often feel lost. Lost and uninterested in working hard at galvanizing that same community of support they once enjoyed. The same community of support that came easily during their 30s is something they’d have to work at now. That’s just too hard to do. It takes too much energy. It takes too much time. AND who wants to tell their life story all over again?
We can’t force people to have a social life, but we can engage those who are receptive to friendly advances. Case in point: At a local restaurant for lunch last week, I sat outside and enjoyed my meal with the company of family. Across from us sat an older gentleman (turns out he was 93). He continued to look at us and offered a kind word about the restaurant. It was obvious that he was up for a chat. That’s all. I had no expectation that I would be wrapped up into his social circle, but I was certainly focused on ensuring that he felt less alone for the moment. Was I able to analyze his acute v. chronic status? No. But I hoped that I, at least, made him feel less lonely for the moment.