Can You Spot the Signs of Loneliness?

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Author: Carolyn Lookabill, Brand Ambassador

Loneliness is a feeling, not a space.

Social isolation is a major risk factor for functional difficulties in older persons. Loss of important relationships can lead to feelings of emptiness and depression. … This further emphasizes the need for a perceived internal locus of control over social interaction as a means of alleviating loneliness.

Loneliness, depression and sociability in old age – NCBI – NIH

A person can be alone or in a room full of people and experience feelings of loneliness and isolation. For senior living providers, all staff members can be trained to help identify residents at risk. Using “Non-Intrusive Observational Skills”, employees can take note of changes in behavior that may signal a need for intervention. These include potential red flags such as:
• Resident stops coming to meals, particularly early AM. “I had some crackers or cookies in my room. I’m fine.”
• Resident neglects personal grooming, dressing and bathing. Wears the same clothes day after day
• Resident does not want to leave their accommodation. “Waiting on a call, waiting on a package”
• Resident declines most invitations that they may have previously accepted
• Resident states “I just don’t feel good.” Has trouble concentrating or following a conversation
• Resident declines medications and/or health care interventions. “I don’t think I need that.” Or “I forgot to take it.”
• Resident self-medicating with increased use of alcohol, sleep aids, food, etc.

Almost all people need to belong…to something or someone. Even those who are “loners” need to belong, to connect on some level. Residents who have experienced a recent and/or significant loss may be more at risk of loneliness which can lead to depression. Depression can lead to an increased need for medication including self medication and abuse of alcohol, food, medications for insomnia, etc. When staff members identify a resident who is exhibiting any of the behaviors outlined above, it is time for them to take their observation to a supervisor, a member of the interdisciplinary care team and/or to the leadership in the community. Making time for each resident can become part of the interaction involving all employees and residents. Virtually every department has some interaction with residents…making that interaction more personal with a little conversation and engagement is not just the right thing to do…it’s therapeutic.

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