Loneliness beyond the pandemic

Jul 4, 2022

The weight of loneliness has impacted many of us over these past two years. Lockdowns and border closures have separated us from family, friends, and the social interactions we have in our workplace or places of study. Connection, a place to be,
and meaningful conversation give us purpose and a sense of belonging to our community regardless of age.  

Now that restrictions have eased, borders are opening, universities and most workplaces are calling us back, life for most has returned to a semi-normal. But what about our seniors? Before the pandemic, 20% of seniors, particularly those 75 years or older, were impacted by loneliness. Those most affected were living alone or in aged care facilities.  

We know that the risk of health issues such as Cardiovascular Disease and Dementia increases with loneliness, so what can we do as a community to resolve this? 

Study suggests that the pandemic worsened loneliness

During the 2021 lockdowns, Monash University conducted a research study to discover how seniors experience loneliness, asking how they suggested we confront this social pandemic in our communities. 

The research showed that before COVID, seniors experienced loneliness in the morning or evenings when they weren’t distracted by their usual activities and outings. When COVID came, many felt loneliness all day as distractions and activities ended
due to lockdowns. 

Covid lockdowns saw many participants seeking alternative strategies to cope with their loneliness. Some would pre-plan activities, crafts, nature they enjoyed doing on their own, which gave them something to look forward to and a sense of purpose.
Contact with family using technology or video calling, and engaging in various online activities became crucial in allowing older people to feel valued and included. 

The need for human connection saw participants actively seeking out others, engaging in conversation with their neighbours, people passing by, or shop staff, and even choosing supermarkets based on the staff’s friendliness and willingness
to converse. 

Although we are out the other side of lockdowns, research like this has opened up a conversation about loneliness,  asking the lonely people what they want us to know and how we can help moving forward. 

For many, admitting they were lonely was difficult. Those seniors living alone wanted to prove their ability to remain independent. Seniors can feel like their home had become a silent prison, and just hearing the phone
ring gave them some reprieve. 

Participants also revealed that they felt cast out from family, friends and the community. They felt forgotten, and some even reported suicidal thoughts.  Often it is hard for seniors to reach out as they do not wish to be a burden on their
loved ones. 

How can we help?

According to research, seniors do have strategies to manage their loneliness, but they still need support from family, friends, and the wider community. The small act of picking up the phone for a chat or organising an outing makes a significant
difference. Having those difficult conversations about loneliness with our loved ones and listening can help them understand there is no shame in experiencing loneliness, they aren’t alone and there is help available. These small acts
can be lifesaving. 

In Great Company volunteers are a part of this help. We ask that volunteers visit or speak with our clients weekly or at least fortnightly. Volunteers take clients on outings or communicate with them via phone calls or text messages to check in
and touch base. In conversation with clients and volunteers, we hear of the remarkable difference In Great Company initiatives have made to the lives of our clients.  

For some, reaching out for the first time presents some challenges. In the early stages, receiving visits from a volunteer can be confronting. However, once a connection is established, the client begins to feel comfortable and gains confidence
in establishing new relationships. For many of our clients, these invaluable relationships have resulted in lifelong friendships. 

As we move forward, let us remember how a little bit of small talk, a phone call, or even a text message to check in can change someone’s day. We all need to feel a sense of belonging; this is no different for our seniors, who need to know they
are valued, they are not forgotten, and they play a vital role in our community.  

If you’d like to become a volunteer with In Great Company and make a senior’s life less lonely, you can do so here.