Hold the Phone & Let’s Combat Loneliness Among Older Adults

06/14/2024 | Blog | Reading Time 3 Minutes

As a career nurse now serving as executive director for Aldersly in Marin, I witness firsthand how loneliness affects older adults. Lately I’ve been thinking about why, with our smartphones and constant “connection,” why are we lonelier than ever? 

Loneliness is not a lack of companionship; it’s a deeply rooted yearning for human connection. We love our smartphones which allow us to text, group chat, Slack and DM our days away, constantly connected to our friends, families and colleagues. But most older adults don’t embrace smartphones. Sure, some text a little bit or dabble on Facebook, but they tell me they use phones out of necessity, not as a form of social connection. 

So to combat loneliness among older adults, I like to embrace a back to basics approach. Sometimes a simple compliment is truly all that is needed. You can literally make someone’s day by saying, “You got your hair done! It looks amazing!” 

A couple of weeks ago, we had a lively game of cornhole going. One of our independent living residents had her window open and I called her down to play. At first, she resisted. But I knew she had been struggling lately and I was intent on creating a connection, so I persisted in encouraging her to join us. Once she started playing, she spent the afternoon laughing and having fun. That one moment of encouragement changed her day. 

Last week, a man called asking for guidance on how he could connect with his mother, who had recently slipped into a coma. I think in this age of technology, we sometimes forget how powerful human touch can be. Simply putting his hand on hers is calming for her, and even in a coma, his mom can sense his presence and can feel human touch.  

Adult children who are caregivers for their aging parents may experience heightened emotions on Mother's Day and Father's Day. While these holidays provide an opportunity to express gratitude, they can also serve as a reminder of the challenges associated with caregiving, which can contribute to feelings of loneliness. 

Here are some of my tips to combat loneliness and prioritize human connection: 

  1. Strike Up Conversations: Be open to striking up conversations with people you encounter in your daily life. Small gestures like smiling, making eye contact, and asking how someone's day is going can create moments of connection and alleviate feelings of loneliness. 
  1. Attend Community Events: Keep an eye out for local community events such as fairs, markets, or festivals. These gatherings provide opportunities to meet and interact with people from your community in person. 
  1. Create New Traditions: If traditional celebrations like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day feel overwhelming or triggering, consider creating new traditions that feel meaningful to you. 

Let’s put down our phones and commit to the conversation we’re having while we’re having it. Let’s get back to basics and focus on presence and connection. These undistracted interactions will carry you and your loved one for days.  

With a Perspective, I’m Shannon Brown.