Nell Brown’s husband died in 2012. She had been the primary caregiver during his five-year bout with congestive heart failure, and it had taken a toll on them both. At night she had even slept on a loveseat beside his bed just to be near him.
Soon the grief set in, and Nell began to miss her husband terribly. Luckily she had wonderful neighbors who joined her for afternoon coffee and frequent meals. Yet despite their frequent visits, it became apparent to neighbors and to Nell’s daughter, Dianne Shelton, that the changes could no longer be ignored.
Nell’s dementia was accelerating at an alarming rate — to the point where evening news reports of storms ravaging the California coast seemed alarmingly close to the 91-year-old, even though she was safe at home in Tennessee.
While Nell’s daughter describes her mother as an “amazing person who people fall in love with,” the loneliness she suffered is quite common among seniors who live alone.
Spotting Loneliness in Seniors
Loneliness is a real issue among American seniors, especially for today’s Baby Boomer generation. By the time people reach their 80s, the majority live alone — especially women like Nell, who often outlive their spouses.
Since seniors who live alone are more likely to smoke, be sedentary and have a poor diet, they are also at a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and other health concerns. Loneliness can also increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Shrinking social networks is another big contributor to loneliness, something Nell experienced firsthand. Friends move away, adult children get busy and seniors aren’t able to drive — All of these factors can make it more challenging for seniors to get the socialization they need.
Many seniors like Nell don’t even realize they are lonely. It’s often up to caregivers to notice and correctly identify certain signs or systems.
Signs a loved one might be lonely include talking about friends and family members they haven’t seen in a while, withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed and skipping meals or not eating enough. Lonely seniors like Nell also appear anxious when their guests get up to leave.
Solving the Problem of Loneliness
Diane eventually decided that a move to a senior living community would be the best option for her mother. Nell had already experienced a few bad falls and her dementia was getting worse, causing Diane to worry about her constantly.
Nell moved to Brookdale Belle Meade and in the short time she’s been there she has already blossomed.
“Before, she was in such a self-made state of anxiousness and nervousness,” says Dianne. “Now she’s forming friendships with the ladies there, and she’s a totally different person. Now everyone tells me how amazing she is, and they say ‘she’s everything you said she was…we just couldn’t see it on the day she arrived.’”
Diane is able to have peace of mind knowing that her mother is in a safe and supportive environment where she can make plenty of friends. Senior living communities, like Brookdale, help address the causes of loneliness, allowing seniors to improve their health and happiness.