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What to Know About Living Alone After 60

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

It’s a key part of the human psyche to be social and coexist with other people. We are so hard-wired to be social and interact with people that denying it can cause mental health conditions such as depression.

Yet even with this predisposition toward social behavior, 27% of Americans 60 and over are living alone. When compared with other countries, this is an unusually high number, the second highest in the world. For instance, in countries like Algeria and Afghanistan, the number of older adults living alone is less than 5%.

There are several reasons why an older adult over 60 may find themselves alone:

  • By choice
  • Spouse death
  • Divorce
  • No children
  • No living family
  • No family living nearby

Here’s how you can live your best life while living alone after 60.

You Can Be Alone Without Being Lonely

Being alone isn’t necessarily the same as being lonely. Being alone simply means that you don’t have anyone else in your space, and you may be OK with that. Being lonely is an entirely different matter and stems from an emotional state of feeling isolated. You may crave human company, but for whatever reason it does not happen, and you are left with an empty feeling and longing for companionship. 

If you are living alone and experiencing feelings of loneliness, there are ways to change it. Loneliness can cause certain health conditions if something isn’t done to address it.

Loneliness in Those Over 60

Loneliness is a serious problem among older adults. One report found that more than 30% of adults over 45 experience loneliness. It also found that almost a quarter of adults 65 and older are considered to be experiencing social isolation.

Social isolation causes deep loneliness, and with that can come several health conditions. Research shows:‌

  • A person who is experiencing social isolation is significantly more likely to die prematurely from conditions such as a heart attack, stroke, or diabetes. 
  • Loneliness causes or increases depression, suicide, and anxiety. 
  • Heart failure patients who experience loneliness are four times more likely to die. 
  • A person who is socially isolated is approximately 50% more likely to get dementia. 
  • Loneliness can disrupt sleep, raise blood pressure, and increase stress levels.
  • A person who is socially isolated, has poor social relationships, or is lonely has a 32% increased risk of stroke and a 29% increased risk of heart disease. 
  • Loneliness can be a predictor of functional decline and even death in adults over 60.

Tips for Beating Loneliness

If you’re experiencing loneliness, it’s time to make a change. Try these tips for managing loneliness and living your best life:

Think about what triggers your loneliness. Does it happen when you hear a certain song on the radio? When you smell a certain aroma? Do you feel lonely on certain days of the week? Does weather affect it? Getting a good grasp of what is causing you to feel lonely can help you stop feeling lonely. Find positive activities to fill those empty spaces.

Try a sport or physical activity. Did you golf years ago or ride your bike? You may want to give that another try. Doing something enjoyable that gets you out and about can help you feel better faster. 

Give your diet an overhaul. Certain foods just drag you down. Sugar is a huge culprit. Opt for fresh, natural foods when you can to help you feel better.‌

Do a word puzzle, crossword puzzle, or brain games. Keeping your mind active is not only a healthy part of aging, but it can also help alleviate the depressive fog of loneliness. Grab a buddy, either in real life or online, and have a little friendly competition or work the puzzles together. You’ll feel your spirits lift in no time.‌

Take a walk to get some exercise. Being physically active is good for your mind as well as your body. Walking is a great, low-impact way to get your heart rate up and sweat a little, but there are other ways as well. You can take a class, join a gym, or get a friend and do some simple workouts together.‌

Think about getting a pet. A dog or cat is not a replacement for humans, but they can be very good company, especially when you are feeling down.

Get some sleep. Everything looks better after a good night’s sleep. Loneliness can cause you to have sleep problems, which only makes you feel worse. By finding ways to get good, restful, restorative sleep, you can combat feelings of loneliness and depression at the same time.‌

Try something new. Think of some activities you always wanted to try but never took the plunge. Now go out there and give them a try. Learn a language, take a class in wreath making, or try your hand at baking — the possibilities are endless.‌

Connect with people. Find ways to be around people, whether you take some classes, visit your area’s senior center, or volunteer.‌

Resources for Older Adults Who Are Lonely

There are some very good resources for older adults. Many have special programs that will draw older adults into social situations and events. See what they have in your area.‌

  • National Association of Area Agencies on Aging — A network with hundreds of organizations all over the country that offer information, resources, and assistance with programs like caregiver support, meal programs, counseling, nutrition, and more.
  • AARP — A tremendous resource for older adults to help them get involved with their community and improve their quality of life.
  • National Council on Aging — A network of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses that offer services to older adults as well as community programs. Its reach extends all over the United States.
  • Eldercare Locator — A national service that is free to use. It helps older individuals and their families connect with vital resources such as caregiving services, financial support, and transportation.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

 American Psychological Association: “By the numbers: Older adults living alone.”

Annals of Behavioral Medicine: “Loneliness Matters: A Theoretical and Empirical Review of Consequences and Mechanisms.”

Archives of Internal Medicine: “Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death.”

CDC: “Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions.”

Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine: “Social Engagement and Sense of Loneliness and Hopelessness: Findings from the PINE Study.”

Healthcare: “Living Alone Among Older Adults in Canada and the U.S.”‌

Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: “The neurobiology of human social behaviour: an important but neglected topic.”‌

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: “Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults.”
National Institute on Aging: “Loneliness and Social Isolation — Tips for Staying Connected." 

‌Pew Research Center: “Older people are more likely to live alone in the U.S. than elsewhere in the world.”

Pew Research Center: “Smaller Share of Women Ages 65 and Older Are Living Alone.”

PsychAlive: “I Feel Lonely: What To Do When You’re Feeling Alone.”

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