by Michael Goodman
and Peter Boyce
The definitions of loneliness are many, but the actual feeling of loneliness is probably indescribable to those who have not experienced it, and certainly needs no description to those who have. It may only scratch the surface to try and explain it as a devastating and desolate feeling of being isolated, left out, and completely and utterly alone.
Although being alone may result in loneliness, the two are certainly not the same. People who are alone may be so as a result of choice and for many, when it is under the control of the individual, solitude is a welcome state.
But loneliness, on the other hand, is unwanted solitude which does not even require being alone. It can be experienced in company, presenting itself as a feeling of isolation from other individuals, regardless of whether one is actually isolated from others or not.
Research suggests that loneliness could be a “hidden killer” of elderly people and warns that lonely older people are at increased risk of depression, lack of exercise, bad diet, physical damage and generally poor health. As such, loneliness needs to be recognised as a public health issue as well as one requiring the attention of social care.
What is particularly worrying is that despite admirable work being done by government agencies, voluntary organisations and churches, statistics in other developed countries suggest that the prevalence of loneliness in the elderly is not decreasing.
In Barbados, we need to be more aware of the increasing number of older people in our society who are trapped in their own homes by a lack of mobility and are rarely visited by family or friends. The community spirit and village life that might once have protected them, is dying a slow death. Some may say it passed long ago.
Quite simply, a lack of social interaction can make old people more vulnerable to depression and loneliness, which can adversely affect their immune and cardio-vascular systems, and may even be linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The problems of loneliness and isolation therefore need to be put on an equal footing with other conditions associated with ageing.
So what can you do to help? Phone or visit that friend or relative you have not seen or heard from for ages. You have no idea how much joy your making that long awaited contact may bring. Don’t procrastinate or make excuses like “I don’t know what to say” or “Why don’t they call me?”. Just do it!
And if you’ve been feeling lonely for a while, identify and accept it as a natural human emotion and think about what you can do to help yourself, or how to ask for help from others.
If you would like to see friends or family, invite them to visit. You might be surprised at how often people will respond positively to a specific invitation to come and spend time with you.
Take small steps to improve your well being by eating more healthily and regularly and, if you are able, taking gentle exercise and keeping active around the house. If you can offer some of your time by helping others, volunteer. Volunteering is one of the best ways of getting out and about, meeting others and feeling better about yourself and life in general.
If you have concerns about the effect loneliness is having on you or someone you know, call the excellent NAB counselling service in complete confidence for advice and guidance on 437 3630.
* Join Michael Goodman and Peter Boyce on Bajan Living every Monday, 2-3pm, on 100.7 QFM Barbados or online at qfm.bb. Find us on Facebook or email us at [email protected]