Loneliness and Isolation

Apr 5 8:00am | Dr. Courtney McAlister | @drcourtneymcalister | Comments (33)

I am often asked about loneliness and social isolation and how they can affect memory, especially with the increased focus on them over the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Loneliness and social isolation are often used interchangeably but are different concepts.

Loneliness is the subjective perception that our emotional and social relationships are not as strong as our desire for these relationships. Better put, loneliness is the feeling of being alone or disconnected from others, regardless of the amount of social contact one has. It is often described as the painful feeling when there is a mismatch or gap between the number and quality of relationships we have and what we would like. Loneliness is a common emotion, and it can come and go or be persistent.

This is different from social isolation (having few social connections or interactions), which may or may not be upsetting to someone. In other words, people can be socially isolated and not be lonely. Some people prefer to be by themselves. Similarly, people can feel isolated even when they have many activities and/or are surrounded by people. This can especially occur when relationships are not emotionally rewarding.

There are several types of loneliness:

Social loneliness = missing a wider social network

Emotional loneliness = wanting more intimate or deep relationships with others

Collective loneliness = feeling of not being valued by the broader community

Existential loneliness = sense that life lacks meaning or purpose

Several studies have shown that loneliness can have negative effects on memory, sleep, mood, and medical factors, such as heart disease.  Loneliness affects memory loss through several different mechanisms and has been associated with faster rates of memory decline and an increased risk of dementia.

If you are feeling lonely, consider what is contributing or the “root cause.” Common causes are loss of a spouse or close friend, limited transportation, memory loss, and even hearing loss. Others have thoughts that they are being left out, rejected, or are a burden to others. Ask yourself the following questions: Why don’t I get together with friends? Why have I lost touch with people I once spoke with? What parts of your relationships with family and friends are working well for you? Is there something missing? Are there any changes you would like to make to those relationships?

Below are some tips to reduce loneliness:

  • Reach out to others.
    • Write a letter, send a card or brief text, or call an old friend, coworker, or classmate. Call your loved ones daily. Make a plan for which loved one you can reach out to tomorrow. Ask a loved someone to send a picture of something special from his/her day. Connect by doing an act of kindness for someone. These simple acts are beneficial for the other person but can also help you feel more connected.
  • Share your feelings and wishes.
    • Tell your loved ones if you feel lonesome. Suggest an activity that can help nurture or strengthen a relationship. Ask someone you trust to regularly visit or call – This can provide them “permission” to do so.
  • Use video technology or social apps with family and friends, such as FaceTime and Zoom.
    • Record and send “video cards.” Play a simple game or bake a recipe together through video chat. Read stories to grandchildren. Have group Zoom calls with grandchildren or social hour with friends. If you are not tech-savvy, ask a family member or friend for help setting up an activity or sign up for a class through a community center to help you learn to use technology.
  • Consider volunteering and joining activities and exercise groups through local community centers.
    • Some communities have a memory café – a place to enjoy activities and socialize with others who are experiencing memory loss and their care partners.
  • Start each day with a gratitude practice, which is appreciating something or someone meaningful to you. Research shows that it helps reduce mood symptoms and increase social connectedness.
  • Call a “warmline.” The Institute on Aging has a 24-hour toll-free Friendship Line (800-971-0016) staffed with professionals and volunteers available to offer friendly conversation and emotional support to older adults.
  • Spend time outdoors and interact with nature. Studies have shown that those who spent time outdoors were less likely to report feeling a lack of companionship or feeling isolated.
  • Consider joining a support group for individuals with MCI. Many communities and hospital systems offer support groups and programs. The Alzheimer’s Association is also a good resource for virtual support groups. Mayo Clinic Connect, offers support groups for both caregivers and people living with MCI here: Caregivers: Dementia and Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).
  • Ask your doctors or loved ones who know you best what they would suggest for you to reduce loneliness. They may have creative suggestions.

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) blog.

Thank you for the informational and differential perspectives on loneliness and isolation.
Through my cancer and my chemo of the previous year with COVID-19 making it even more difficult to see people. With symptoms and problems from chemo or difficulty getting help from doctors my mood decreases. As my mood decreases I isolate myself more because who wants to hear my distress. It is difficult to share feelings and medical issues when you know others don’t want to hear it, don’t sympathize with it, and just plain don’t understand. Your suggestions are helpful and necessary. I will try to reach out to friends and see if I can connect in order to share. If I connect it will decrease my feelings of loneliness and isolation.

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I am both lonely and isolated. I recently lost my husband of 59 years and shortly thereafter I had to go through a total hip replacement by myself. I do not have MCI even though I am 87 years old. I am often told I do not look or act like my age. While this is a compliment, it really doesn't help. Just feel that life isn't worth living but I do not ever think of doing away with myself. Just try to get through the long, lonely days.

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@thisismarilynb

I am both lonely and isolated. I recently lost my husband of 59 years and shortly thereafter I had to go through a total hip replacement by myself. I do not have MCI even though I am 87 years old. I am often told I do not look or act like my age. While this is a compliment, it really doesn't help. Just feel that life isn't worth living but I do not ever think of doing away with myself. Just try to get through the long, lonely days.

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Good afternoon @thisismarilynb, Oh my dear……I am quite honored to make your acquaintance. You have managed to come through some very disturbing events. I am sure you have a sense of loss that requires you to challenge yourself every day. I have reviewed the discussions on this blog and they present opportunities and challenges. What I find out is that I am responsible for finding creative ways to spend my day that can be called joyful.

I just turned 80 and 3 years ago sold my CA home and moved to MN lock, stock, and barrel. I closed my business, sold my house, and held onto my close friends………..for a while. I had amazing promises from long-time friends to come and visit and then COViD became our social reality. At this point, COVID restrictions are waning, and yet,……I realize that without sharing actual experiences it is hard to have a relationship with many "old" friends. So….here's what I did besides joining a Mahjongg group……..I became a volunteer here on Connect. I had been a Caregiver for my partner who was recovering from surgery for prostate cancer and then follow up Proton treatments, etc. I didn't even think I had experienced anything that might be of help to others until I accepted my mentor role. There is so much goodness in helping others. Do you feel like you could give it a try?

May you have happiness and the causes of happiness.
Chris
Here is a list of rewards that I get from volunteering and learning.
1. I receive help ack from members.
2. I have learned to be part of a socially distanced group through Zoom meetings
3. For education, which is also important, I have been studying mindfulness and practicing meditation. I go to retreats every year to continue opening up this world of acceptance and non-judgmental support.
4. I host a First Friday social evening for my meditation group because we don't chat much in meditation.
5. From these group efforts, I have connected with a few folks who pretty much hit the nail the head the same way I do.
6. I am not running for election for trying to get promoted, I just want some quality time with intriguing and caring folks.

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@artscaping

Good afternoon @thisismarilynb, Oh my dear……I am quite honored to make your acquaintance. You have managed to come through some very disturbing events. I am sure you have a sense of loss that requires you to challenge yourself every day. I have reviewed the discussions on this blog and they present opportunities and challenges. What I find out is that I am responsible for finding creative ways to spend my day that can be called joyful.

I just turned 80 and 3 years ago sold my CA home and moved to MN lock, stock, and barrel. I closed my business, sold my house, and held onto my close friends………..for a while. I had amazing promises from long-time friends to come and visit and then COViD became our social reality. At this point, COVID restrictions are waning, and yet,……I realize that without sharing actual experiences it is hard to have a relationship with many "old" friends. So….here's what I did besides joining a Mahjongg group……..I became a volunteer here on Connect. I had been a Caregiver for my partner who was recovering from surgery for prostate cancer and then follow up Proton treatments, etc. I didn't even think I had experienced anything that might be of help to others until I accepted my mentor role. There is so much goodness in helping others. Do you feel like you could give it a try?

May you have happiness and the causes of happiness.
Chris
Here is a list of rewards that I get from volunteering and learning.
1. I receive help ack from members.
2. I have learned to be part of a socially distanced group through Zoom meetings
3. For education, which is also important, I have been studying mindfulness and practicing meditation. I go to retreats every year to continue opening up this world of acceptance and non-judgmental support.
4. I host a First Friday social evening for my meditation group because we don't chat much in meditation.
5. From these group efforts, I have connected with a few folks who pretty much hit the nail the head the same way I do.
6. I am not running for election for trying to get promoted, I just want some quality time with intriguing and caring folks.

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I am a lot older than you. I will be 88 on my next birthday which is in September. I am not good at groups or meeting people. I do not have "small talk." Right now I do not feel like doing anything. Twice a week I have physical therapy for my hip. Go to the grocery store when I run out of food. Love to read so go to the library. That is pretty much it. I live in California, but I grew up in Winnipeg and I would never relocate to an area which has actual snow and winter. But I am so old that all my old friends are gone. And since I am not so good with people I really don't have many friends. Which is okay for right now because I just want to be alone. I know that I am lucky to still have a mind left at my age and I hate it when people are condescending because they think you are senile. I am definitely not. Tomorrow I have an appointment with a social worker. We will see if we suit and if he can help me with my depression. If not, I'll just have to go it alone. But thank you for your good wishes.

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@thisismarilynb

I am a lot older than you. I will be 88 on my next birthday which is in September. I am not good at groups or meeting people. I do not have "small talk." Right now I do not feel like doing anything. Twice a week I have physical therapy for my hip. Go to the grocery store when I run out of food. Love to read so go to the library. That is pretty much it. I live in California, but I grew up in Winnipeg and I would never relocate to an area which has actual snow and winter. But I am so old that all my old friends are gone. And since I am not so good with people I really don't have many friends. Which is okay for right now because I just want to be alone. I know that I am lucky to still have a mind left at my age and I hate it when people are condescending because they think you are senile. I am definitely not. Tomorrow I have an appointment with a social worker. We will see if we suit and if he can help me with my depression. If not, I'll just have to go it alone. But thank you for your good wishes.

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Good luck tomorrow. Will you please let me know your impression of the appointment? And a personal question if you don't mind…….where do you live in California? I just spent 23 years in the art community of Idyllwild, about 6,000 ft up on the San Jacinto mountains. Miss my mountains.
Thanks…..in advance.
Chris

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I am a youngster compared to you. I am only 79 years old. My marriage fell apart about 20 years ago, but I was young enough at that time to change my life. I moved from Minnesota to southern Florida, and all of a sudden I felt very alone. I decided to take in a young homeless woman, and that was one of the best moves of my life. She became like my daughter. I m not aloe anymore, and she and her boyfriend treat me loving and take really good care of me. I have a normal family life again.

REPLY
@artscaping

Good afternoon @thisismarilynb, Oh my dear……I am quite honored to make your acquaintance. You have managed to come through some very disturbing events. I am sure you have a sense of loss that requires you to challenge yourself every day. I have reviewed the discussions on this blog and they present opportunities and challenges. What I find out is that I am responsible for finding creative ways to spend my day that can be called joyful.

I just turned 80 and 3 years ago sold my CA home and moved to MN lock, stock, and barrel. I closed my business, sold my house, and held onto my close friends………..for a while. I had amazing promises from long-time friends to come and visit and then COViD became our social reality. At this point, COVID restrictions are waning, and yet,……I realize that without sharing actual experiences it is hard to have a relationship with many "old" friends. So….here's what I did besides joining a Mahjongg group……..I became a volunteer here on Connect. I had been a Caregiver for my partner who was recovering from surgery for prostate cancer and then follow up Proton treatments, etc. I didn't even think I had experienced anything that might be of help to others until I accepted my mentor role. There is so much goodness in helping others. Do you feel like you could give it a try?

May you have happiness and the causes of happiness.
Chris
Here is a list of rewards that I get from volunteering and learning.
1. I receive help ack from members.
2. I have learned to be part of a socially distanced group through Zoom meetings
3. For education, which is also important, I have been studying mindfulness and practicing meditation. I go to retreats every year to continue opening up this world of acceptance and non-judgmental support.
4. I host a First Friday social evening for my meditation group because we don't chat much in meditation.
5. From these group efforts, I have connected with a few folks who pretty much hit the nail the head the same way I do.
6. I am not running for election for trying to get promoted, I just want some quality time with intriguing and caring folks.

Jump to this post

Chris, I am so impressed. You made it, out there! I guess for many of us it’s taking the first few steps. Some seem to work, yet others don’t. With physical limitations and not feeling well at times and just moving into a new city; it’s difficult. I guess, the best is to keep forging ahead with the activities one enjoys. I’m happy for you.

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I like this article a lot, tried to print it but it "showed" only the first few letters in each line. Is there some way I can get a hard copy of the article. please?
Wayne

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@hergiew

I like this article a lot, tried to print it but it "showed" only the first few letters in each line. Is there some way I can get a hard copy of the article. please?
Wayne

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Thanks, @herglew………. What part of this discussion do you want in hard copy. The entire blog event or just part of it.
I am going to ask @johnbishop to help me find a way. Have you tried just taking a screenshot or more than one depending on what you want? Just reply back to both of us and we will help.
Chris

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@hergiew

I like this article a lot, tried to print it but it "showed" only the first few letters in each line. Is there some way I can get a hard copy of the article. please?
Wayne

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@hergiew – It is a great article. Maybe Dr. Courtney McAlister @drcourtneymcalister can make a printable PDF copy of the article available for those wanting to share the information?

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@artscaping

Thanks, @herglew………. What part of this discussion do you want in hard copy. The entire blog event or just part of it.
I am going to ask @johnbishop to help me find a way. Have you tried just taking a screenshot or more than one depending on what you want? Just reply back to both of us and we will help.
Chris

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I would prefer to get a copy of the entire event oh, if possible. If not, a copy of the article would be appreciated. I do not know how to do a screenshot. Thank you for your interest.

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@lindes

I am a youngster compared to you. I am only 79 years old. My marriage fell apart about 20 years ago, but I was young enough at that time to change my life. I moved from Minnesota to southern Florida, and all of a sudden I felt very alone. I decided to take in a young homeless woman, and that was one of the best moves of my life. She became like my daughter. I m not aloe anymore, and she and her boyfriend treat me loving and take really good care of me. I have a normal family life again.

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Lindes, that is very cool! Thank you for sharing.

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