There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Loneliness can lead to early death. Studies consistently show that the feeling of being alone is a leading contributor to poor physical and mental health among the elderly.

One such study, from the University of California, San Francisco, found that those 60 and older who reported feeling lonely showed a 59-percent greater risk of mental and physical decline than their non-lonely peers. They also were 45 percent more likely to die early.

But the thing about loneliness is that it’s a self-perpetuating problem, meaning that the lonelier people feel, the more likely they are to engage in isolating behaviors. And on top of that, Americans love their independence and aren’t likely to volunteer that they need help.

So, what can adult children and loved ones do if they’re concerned a senior may be lonely?

For starters, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your parents or loved ones about loneliness. They aren’t likely to ask for help, but it’s likely that they need it. According to the UCSF study, 43 percent of seniors report feeling lonely regularly.

When you have the conversation, consider these possible solutions for elder loneliness. No matter your loved one’s level of independence or activity, there’s a solution that can help him or her thrive.

  • Get involved with a local senior center. The senior centers in Lynden, Ferndale, Blaine and Bellingham all offer good drop-in activities, which can help them make and build important, lasting friendships. In addition, senior centers also introduce the elderly to a whole host of other vital community services.
  • Join a day-health program with structured social activities. Adult day health programs like Northwest Adult Day Health and Wellness Center are especially useful for those who need a bit of medical support. NWADH helps adults and people with long-term illness and disabilities stay social and active while maintaining their independence and ability to safely live at home.
  • Find a nursing home that offers a robust activity program. Keep in mind that the elderly can be lonely even in nursing homes, so it’s important to find one like Christian Health Care Centerthat offers regular social activities with an emphasis on keeping people active and engaged.

If you’re worried about loneliness for an elder in your life and you’d like more information about care options, contact Christian Health Care Center in Lynden. The center’s activity leaders strongly believe that positive, engaged interactions are critical to maintaining and even improving health and well-being, regardless of age or ability.