Is Loneliness a Problem Among the Aging and Visually Impaired?
One of the problems with transportation is I have to have everything scheduled the day before. If my schedule changes - like today - I am at the office for hours without a client. Considering that yesterday was a similar sort of day with cancellations and no shows, I got most of my back work done. Today I am sitting here by myself and twiddling my thumbs. It is lonely down here!
I usually do not “do" lonely. However, that does not mean thousands and thousands of us don’t "do” lonely. In fact, loneliness is a problem for the elderly and for the visually impaired. Put elderly and visually impaired together, like occurs in age-related macular degeneration, and it can get nasty in the lonely department!
Is there a loneliness epidemic among the elderly?
Hawkley published an article in Psychology of Aging (2019) about the “loneliness epidemic” among the elderly. While she concluded there is not truly an epidemic of loneliness, Hawkley found there has always been a problem.1 Once again, it seems like an increase because there are so dang many of us.
Loneliness is not only emotionally uncomfortable, but it can be physically debilitating as well. Loneliness places people at risk for poor physical health and increases rates of early mortality.
Moderately lonely or severely lonely?
Hawkins was researching old age and loneliness. Also in 2019, Audun Brunes published his research on loneliness among adults with visual impairment. The research revealed a rate of over a quarter of the visually impaired, adult population being moderately lonely and a rate of about a fifth of the visually impaired, adult population being severely lonely. Good grief!
While there is all this research connecting visual impairment, old age, loneliness and poor quality of life together, there is not a great deal of concrete advice. Several studies suggested having a spouse or intimate partner was helpful for preventing loneliness while others said there's no correlation. It would appear that - just like many things in life - it is all about the quality of the connection.
How to make those quality connections is the crux of the matter here. Some people find the connection with a spouse, a sibling, a child and/or a pet. Others have to go further afield to find it.
I commented I rarely “do” lonely because I have - thus far - made a concerted effort to stay involved in life. I have a husband and two dogs at home. I go to work four days a week. I attend exercise classes and get together with friends. All of these things seem to work. What else?
Putting yourself out there
In 2019 Psychology Today published an article about feeling lonely. The article was about discovering 18 ways to overcome loneliness. Davis, the author, suggested the “usual suspects” such as self-compassion and mindfulness or being here and now. She also suggested the things I do: getting involved in activities and spending money on experiences rather than things. She also suggested starting conversations with strangers and maintaining an online presence that is real and interactive. In short, one way or the other, fighting loneliness involves taking the chance and putting yourself out there.
Vision loss does not have to mean being lonely. Connections can be made almost anywhere. Put yourself out there. The cliche holds: strangers are friends you have not met yet. Go meet them.
Do you feel that you've maintained independence with macular degeneration?