The coordinator of social intervention projects for the elderly at the Association for Inclusion Acompáñame, Cristian Macía Rojas, speaks in this article about how to fight unwanted loneliness in the elderly.
Loneliness is a universal human feeling that we all experience at some point in our lives. However, when it becomes chronic and unwanted, it can have devastating consequences for health and well-being, especially in older adults. Loneliness in elderly people is a growing problem worldwide, and it is essential to address it effectively to improve the quality of life of our loved ones at this stage of life.
In this blog post, we will delve deeply into the topic of unwanted loneliness in elderly individuals, its causes and effects, and how NeuronUP, as an innovative tool, can be an effective solution to combat this issue.
Throughout this article, you will learn about the importance of addressing loneliness in elderly people and how, through the Acompáñame Inclusion Association, we employ a working methodology that establishes an individualized, participatory, and healthy intervention model, where NeuronUP has become an invaluable ally in this effort.
The World Health Organization defines aging as: “The physiological process that begins with conception and causes changes in species’ characteristics throughout the life cycle; these changes result in a limitation of the organism’s adaptability to the environment. The rates at which these changes occur in the various organs of the same individual or in different individuals are not the same” (WHO, 2002).
Furthermore, according to Hernando (2006), aging does not have a single responsible mechanism but is due to the accumulation of various interacting causes. Also, according to Hernández and Martínez-Esparza et al. (2006), the concept of aging is established as the grouping of various modifications that occur in a person throughout their life cycle. This is a result of the impact of time passing on individuals, resulting in changes at biochemical, physiological, morphological, social, psychological, and functional levels.
Loneliness in the Elderly: A Silent Problem
Unwanted loneliness in older people is a problem that often goes unnoticed. Many elderly adults may find themselves alone due to various circumstances, such as retirement, the loss of loved ones, reduced mobility, or a lack of connection with the community. Loneliness can affect anyone, regardless of their marital status or economic situation, and it’s not always apparent to others.
According to Bourdieu (1991), aging is seen as a sociocultural work in which identities, roles, and structure are assumed by different social groups, leading to significant inequalities among them. Also, Izquierdo (2010) contributes to the definition of this concept by emphasizing the concept developed by Bourdieu previously, pointing to age as a social and cultural construct that creates a separation during various distinct moments in the course of life.
Causes of Loneliness in Elderly People
- Loss of Loved Ones: The loss of friends and family is one of the primary causes of loneliness in older individuals. As we age, it’s natural for our loved ones to pass away, leaving an emotional void that can be hard to fill.
- Retirement: While retirement can be an anticipated and welcomed moment, it can also lead to loneliness. Many older people find that the daily routine provided by work disappears, and they may feel lost without a clear purpose.
- Mobility Issues: Decreased mobility due to health problems or disabilities can lead to loneliness by limiting older individuals’ ability to participate in social activities.
- Lack of a Support Network: Some older individuals may lack a strong social support network due to geographical distance from family and friends or because they have lost contact with their community.
- Ageism: Society often perpetuates negative stereotypes about aging, which can make elderly people feel marginalized or undervalued.
Effects of Loneliness in Seniors
Aging is categorized as an irreversible, intraindividual, and universal process. As previously established, the human being is a dynamic entity composed of different aspects, including the biological, psychological, and social.
Unwanted loneliness in elderly can have a range of detrimental effects on their physical and emotional well-being. Some of the most common effects include:
- Mental Health Issues: Loneliness can contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders in older adults.
- Physical Health Problems: Several studies have shown that lonely older persons have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and diabetes.
- Social Isolation: Loneliness can lead to social isolation, which, in turn, can worsen mental health problems and make it more challenging to manage chronic illnesses.
- Reduced Quality of Life: Loneliness can diminish the quality of life for senior citizens by affecting their overall life satisfaction and sense of purpose.
NeuronUP: An Innovative Tool for Approaching Unwanted Loneliness in Elderly Persons
Loneliness in seniors is a complex issue that requires multifaceted approaches for intervention. One of the most innovative and effective tools that has emerged in recent years is NeuronUP.
This digital platform has become an indispensable resource in the fight against unwanted loneliness in the elderly. Additionally, this application allows us to work on digital literacy, enabling us to introduce technology to older people and promote or rekindle new or old social relationships focused on technological communication that may have been lost for various reasons.
NeuronUP addresses various cognitive functions as needed by the patient, providing the Acompáñame Association with great flexibility to adapt to the characteristics and conditions of each beneficiary. This promotes active aging and prevents Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and works with different neurodegenerative diseases in their various stages.
Furthermore, digital tools help conserve the environment by reducing the use of paper for session materials. At the Acompáñame Inclusion Association, we strive to achieve as many Sustainable Development Goals as possible and are fully committed to environmental conservation. Therefore, using a digital tool that allows us to program different sessions with various activities through a tablet or portable device helps us meet our objectives and values.
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How NeuronUP Tackles Unwanted Loneliness
NeuronUP tackles unwanted loneliness in elderly individuals in several key ways:
- Variety of Activities: The platform offers a wide range of activities designed to stimulate various cognitive areas, such as memory, attention, problem-solving, and visual perception. This variety ensures that older individuals stay engaged and enjoy a diverse experience.
- Customized Programs: NeuronUP allows users and healthcare professionals to create personalized cognitive stimulation programs. This means that activities can be tailored to the individual needs and preferences of each older person, increasing the likelihood of participation and engagement.
- Monitoring and Evaluation: NeuronUP enables precise tracking of each patient’s progress. This feature is essential for adapting activities as cognitive needs change and for measuring the impact of the intervention on loneliness and overall well-being.
- Accessibility: NeuronUP is an online platform, which means it is accessible from electronic devices such as tablets and computers. This makes it user-friendly for seniors, even if they are not tech-savvy.
Examples of NeuronUP Activities
- Logic and Problem-Solving Games: These challenging games stimulate the mind and encourage problem-solving. Patients can tackle puzzles or activities that require strategic planning.
- Memory Exercises: This type of activity helps older adults exercise their short-term and long-term memory. Exercises may include remembering sequences of numbers or letters, matching images, or completing puzzles that require recalling details.
- Visual Stimulation and Perception: To keep the mind active, NeuronUP offers visual stimulation and perception exercises, such as identifying differences in images or recognizing visual patterns.
- Attention Training: Attention is a key cognitive skill. NeuronUP provides activities that help senior citizens improve their concentration and attention, which can be beneficial in reducing feelings of loneliness by being more present in their social interactions.
How to Use NeuronUP
- Customize Programs: Work with your patients to create personalized intervention programs.
- Familiarize Yourself with the Platform: Explore the platform and become familiar with the available activities and exercises. Understand how they can be adapted to individual needs.
- Track Progress: Use NeuronUP’s tracking and evaluation tools to measure progress over time. This allows you to adapt activities as needed.
- Promote Participation: Encourage the older person to use the platform regularly. You can set participation goals and offer rewards to maintain motivation.
The Importance of Addressing Unwanted Loneliness in the Elderly
Advances in medicine and technology have led to a significant decrease in mortality among older people, resulting in a notable increase in life expectancy.
For instance, life expectancy for men has risen from 77 years in 2004 to 80.2 years in 2021. For women, the trend is similar, with an increase in life expectancy from an average of 83.6 years in 2004 to 85.8 years in 2021. Currently, there are significant percentages within the population pyramid, highlighting a concentration of people over 65 years of age.
Unwanted loneliness in this population exacerbates current public health problems that should not be overlooked. As the population ages worldwide, it is essential to address this issue effectively to improve the quality of life for older individuals and reduce the overall public health impact.
By addressing loneliness in the elderly, we can achieve the following benefits:
- Improved Mental Health: Reducing loneliness can help prevent and treat depression and anxiety in older persons.
- Improved Physical Health: By reducing social isolation, physical health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, can also be reduced.
- Enhanced Quality of Life: Seniors who feel more connected to others tend to experience greater life satisfaction and a stronger sense of purpose.
- Less Strain on Healthcare Systems: Addressing loneliness can reduce hospital visits and the need for medical care, alleviating the burden on healthcare systems.
Unwanted loneliness in elderly people is a significant issue that affects the physical and mental health of those who experience it, given their vulnerable conditions. Therefore, it is essential to address this problem effectively to improve the quality of life for older adults and reduce the strain on healthcare systems.
NeuronUP has become a valuable tool in this fight, in which the Acompáñame Inclusion Association plays its part. NeuronUP offers a wide range of cognitive stimulation activities and promotes social interaction, often taking a playful educational approach for the beneficiaries.
Loneliness doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. With tools like NeuronUP, we can provide older persons with the tools and support they need to keep their minds active and connect with others.
As we continue to explore new ways to address loneliness in seniors, it’s important to leverage innovative technologies that can make a difference in the lives of those who need it most. NeuronUP is an example of how technology can be an ally in promoting well-being and reducing loneliness in the elderly.
- Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice.
- Hernando Ibeas, M.V. (2006). Theories on the phenomenon of aging. Active aging, positive aging. University of La Rioja, 37- 64.
- Hernández Martínez-Esparza, E., Barquín Arribas, M., Mundet Riera, I., Royano Reigadas, L., & García Calderón, M. (2006). The need of a nursing report at discharge or transfer to a geriatric residence. Gerokomos, 17(3), 132-139.
- Izquierdo Martínez, A. (2005). Developmental psychology of adulthood: theories and contexts. Complutense journal of education.
- World Health Organization (WHO), (2002). Report of the Second World Assembly on Ageing.