The holiday season brings with it a gift bag of experiences and emotions that people often look forward to all year long. For many people, socialization during this time of year can become almost overwhelming; but for others, loneliness is a real struggle. Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to loneliness during the holiday season, as they have often lost friends and loved ones over time. Finding a means to address and remedy these negative experiences is therefore in the best interest of seniors and their families, so that they might regain the full spectrum of joy that this season is associated with.
Being lonely or socially isolated is not good for your overall health. In fact, medical research has shown that social isolation can have a simliar impact on a persons health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. While everyone enjoys their personal time, too much of it can negatively affect multiple aspects of everyday life so when the holidays arrive, make sure to reach out to your senior family members and include them in your planning and celebration. Aside from staying in contact, there are certain activities and tips that will help you or your older loved ones stay social this holiday season.
Combating holiday loneliness
Communities often hold events and activities around the holiday season which are great for remedying loneliness. While these events and activities change year to year, some places to investigate for activity ideas might include...
- Local libraries often host holiday themed activities and events that they list on their website or post details about on community fliers around town. Though they offer holiday events and activities, local libraries are great year-round sources of socialization and activity that people of all ages can attend.
- Though the events might not be custom tailored to a holiday theme, museums are always great places to go when the desire for socialization strikes. Every museum is different but many offer discounts for seniors to attend and others are simply free for everybody.
- Places of worship. Tied directly to the holiday season are of course places of worship. Though large services are often held once per week, many places of worship have volunteer programs that can aid in combating loneliness on any day of the week, any week of the year; while at the same time allowing you to directly improve the community in which you are living.
- Community Colleges. Not just for high school graduates – community colleges are great places to find information about local events that offer opportunities to socialize or get out and see people. With classes often coming to an end in early December, community colleges are great places to look for activities and events that are happening in the local community and many of them also offer discounted classes that seniors can sign up for and attend in the coming semester.
Negative Health effects & outcomes of loneliness
- Increased risk of cognitive decline.
- Increased risk of developing alzheimer's disease.
- Higher rates of depression and anxiety.
- Increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Overall lower quality of life and higher chance of premature death.
Benefits of Companionship
- Companionship often leads to new social connections which can provide a more permanent social connection in a senior's life.
- Leads to the creation of events/activities to look forward to.
- Important reminders about tasks that may otherwise be forgotten.
- Speaking to people with new or different views than your own can create a better understanding of other cultures and people.
- Sometimes it’s just nice to have somebody to have a conversation with.
Physical Activity can combat loneliness year round
- Senior yoga classes provide socialization alongside physical activity indoors when the weather outside is frightful.
- Walking or exercise gets you out of the house and into the community.
- Explore an old activity that you may have become less engaged with over the years like cooking or fishing. Though they might not be thought of as “active,” they get you up and off the couch which is more beneficial than most people would think.
- Exercise classes for seniors are great social opportunities.
If you or somebody you love is struggling with loneliness this holiday season don’t be afraid to reach out and provide some companionship and support. There are hundreds of avenues which provide help beyond those listed in this post, and by working together and addressing the problem, holiday season loneliness can be a problem of the past for you and your family members.
This content is provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure it is accurate and up to date.
Content reviewed: January 14, 2021
Page last reviewed: April 29, 2021