What Can I Do to Reduce or Eliminate Isolation?
You can take steps to overcome isolation.
The best remedy to combat isolation is to get involved with other people and form meaningful new relationships. Even if this feels difficult to do forming relationships can improve the quality of your life and your well-being. The following are some suggestions that may help you in this effort:
- Take Advantage of Learning Opportunities. Being interested in the world around you and choosing to learn more about something that you are curious about can stimulate your mind. This can also have social benefits, like meeting new people, having meaningful conversations with friends and family, and sharing knowledge with others. More and older adults are taking computer classes to become computer literate to connect with others using e-mail, joining on-line support groups, and participating in chat rooms or message boards. Many Web sites are geared to older adults and provide general information about health, money and retirement. In addition, many public libraries, hospitals, and community colleges offer computer workshops and lectures.
SeniorNet Learning Centers. This computer technologies organization
provides older adults free access to on-line activities such as discussions on aging related topics. Other on-line activities include chats, courses, and computer tips. There is a fee ($44 for one year) to go and use a Learning Center facility, located nationwide and listed on the site. Web site: www.seniornet.org
DOROT’s University Without Walls. This extensive educational program uses telephone conference calls to reach individuals throughout the United States, bringing everyone together into one vibrant community. Phone: 877–819–9147. Web site: www.dorotusa.org
- Use Encouraging Self-Talk. Try developing a positive attitude by recognizing thoughts that are negative and replacing them with something positive. For example, if you think, “I’m too old and tired to make new friends,” the chances are small that you will succeed in meeting people. Try changing that idea to a more positive thought, such as, “I can choose to stay active and interested in people, as many older people do. By making new friends, I’ll have someone to do things with, and hopefully have support when I need help.” This new attitude will be more motivating, and will keep you open to exploring social possibilities.
- Make it a Goal to Get Connected. Perhaps you can set a goal one day to find out about places in your community that you can go to do an activity you have enjoyed in the past. This can be something like playing cards, discussing books, or doing crafts. The following day’s goal could be to check out at least one of the places you found out about. The next day you could explore another resource, and so on.
- Take Care of Yourself. Physical activity (e.g. walking, yoga, or working out with hand weights) can improve your mental attitude and can have a positive impact on your health. If you exercise with a friend or meet someone new while exercising you can benefit from having regular social contacts while doing a physical activity.
- Get a Pet. Having a pet can provide you with companionship, give you something to nurture, and provide you with opportunities to meet others. For example, if the pet is a dog that needs to be walked several times a day, you will have a reason to go out and you can work on developing conversations and connections with other dog walkers.
- Become Involved in Social, Volunteer, and/or Work Activities. Connecting with others through activities can give you a renewed sense of purpose and hope. A church, synagogue, mosque, local senior center, clubs, or other organizations often sponsor activities and opportunities to get involved. By participating in social or civic activities you are more likely to develop interests, experience enjoyment, and find people whom you would like to get to know.
Senior Corps. This federal program is a network of programs that tap the experiences of older citizens to meet community challenges. Programs include: Senior Companions, RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteers Program), and Foster Grandparents. Phone: 1-800-424-8867 Web site: www.seniorcorps.org When you give to others by volunteering you are likely to feel better about yourself for being useful. Going back to work full or part-time can provide you with a social network, give you additional income, and provide an opportunity for you to use your skills. If you are homebound, some localities have opportunities to connect with people through group conference calls.
- Explore Housing Options. Your current living situation may be familiar and comfortable, but if you are isolated, it may better for your overall well-being to consider a living environment that provides easy and frequent opportunities to interact with others including the option of dining with others. Assisted living or continuing care communities are designed just for this purpose.
- Consider Adult Day Communities. Those isolated due to dementia may wish to consider community-based adult day programs designed for people with cognitive limitations. Older adults can spend the day in a supervised protective setting that offers a variety of services and the opportunity to interact and socialize with others.
Connecting With Others
Many older adults find it difficult to figure out how to put themselves in social situations that would allow for more social contact and for new relationships to form. This may be for a variety of reasons including not knowing how to start conversations and keep them going, feeling embarrassed, shy, or anxious about starting something new, or having difficulty finding the resources and options available. If you are having trouble connecting with others for whatever reason, consider the following:
- Talk to Your Healthcare Provider. One possibility is to discuss your concerns and feelings with your doctor, nurse, or other health care provider so that another person can problem-solve with you. Do not wait for the provider to raise the issue with you. Explain your experience with isolation in order to get the help you need. This may feel risky, but it is one way to begin to get help.
- Seek Counseling. If you are experiencing feelings of isolation, consider seeking the help of a counselor. A counselor can determine if depression or anxiety is contributing to your isolation and can help with those problems. If you are uncomfortable meeting new people, a counselor can help you learn ways of interacting with others. Joining a support group is a great way to meet others with similar feelings and develop social contacts. For the homebound, some localities have counselors who will work with you in your home.
American Psychological Association (APA): Find a Psychologist. This association will ask you for your zip code to locate and connect you with the referral service of your state psychological association. Phone: 1-800-964-2000. Web site: locator.apa.org/ or www.apa.org/
- Obtain Help from Community Agencies or Other Resources. Many communities have programs and services designed to provide older adults with a support network. Many older people use these programs to prevent being isolated from others. You may want to consider becoming connected with a reassurance phone call program, a friendly visiting program, or having an aide to help with daily activities or for companionship.
This resource provides brief, general information about this topic. It does not take the place of specific instructions you may receive from health care or service providers. Copyright NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital 2006. All rights reserved.