If you’re feeling lonely these days, you’re not alone. Isolation is a big concern for older adults.
According to a University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging taken in January 2023, 1 in 3 adults between ages 50 and 80 reported feeling isolated from others in the past year.
Research has found that chronic loneliness comes with a hefty price. A 2022 study published in Neurology found a threefold increased risk of dementia for lonely Americans younger than 80 who otherwise were expected to have a relatively low risk based on age and genetics.
The problem is so acute across generations that U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared a loneliness “epidemic” earlier this year.
Technology is often touted as a way to bring people closer together, but Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook, texting and other high-tech options can sometimes be challenging to use. And in a social media era of heart and smiley-face emojis, online communication can feel less than authentic.
“Any social scientist will tell you we are wired for connection, but with technology, we [often] only have the illusion of connection,” says Bruce Wayne McLellan, 70, of Naples, New York, who hosts a podcast on the subject of kindness.
So what are some ways to connect with others that don’t involve our gadgets?
1. Share with others.
Clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly of Santa Rosa, California, offers these suggestions: If you buy a bag of apples and realize you can't eat all of them before they spoil, leave a couple on a neighbor’s doorstep with a note that says, “I want to share these with you.” Do the same thing with a mason jar filled with flowers from your garden or with a recently finished book you want to lend (and propose that the neighbor pass it on when he or she is done).
“In doing so, we create — we crochet — connection,” says Manly, author of Aging Joyfully. “Anything we do becomes part of who we are. We need to look at doing things that give our lives purpose. People who have a purpose in life are far happier.”
2. Bond over food.
Who doesn’t like good food and good conversation? Start a dinner club by selecting a group of people you’d want around the table. Then gather monthly (or however often feels comfortable). If you’re the host, decide on a menu theme and serve a main course. (Bonus points for experimenting with more obscure world cuisines.) Everyone else helps round out the meal with an appetizer, side dish or dessert.