Loneliness is a widespread problem in Western society, especially among older adults, which doesn’t seem to get enough attention. As adults grow older, there is a tendency mindfulness courses for them to become more isolated from their families and society in general.
A study published recently in a scientific journal found that mindfulness meditation helps older adults overcome loneliness. This is good news for seniors because loneliness is a major risk factor for various health conditions such as Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.
Growing Old, and Lonely
Before we go on, it’s important to understand that loneliness is more of a feeling of social disconnection, rather than a physical isolation. There are various reasons why older adults can experience more loneliness. Here are just a few:
- Empty nest syndrome – Parents who have been busy caring for their children suddenly find themselves with much more free time after the kids leave the house.
- Rusty social skills – After so many years of being busy raising children, many parents have not been practicing their social skills with people their age.
- Set in our ways – Most of us know that we tend to become set in our ways as we get older. This means that we take fewer risks in trying new things, which is exactly what meeting new people is all about.
- Lack of social networks – In addition to having rusty social skills, parents have not been active developing their own social networks.
- Increase in children’s family responsibilities – As older adults reach retirement age, their children are often at the height of their careers and family responsibilities. So, they have less time for their aging parents.
To make matters worse, studies have shown that loneliness is contagious. Lonely people tend to spread loneliness by pushing other people away, instead of engaging them. This is probably because of the fear of rejection. Lonely people are generally more fearful, so meeting new people involves greater risk from their perspective.
Social Networking Programs Have Limited Success
Studies have shown that social networking programs for older adults have not been very effective. The reason is that they approach the problem from the outside, when loneliness is primarily an internal mental condition.
In addition, most social networking programs don’t help people develop core social skills such as deep listening, mindful speech, compassion, and forgiveness. They simply put people together in social settings and expect them to interact and develop meaningful relationships.
In order for social networking programs to be more effective, they would need to address both the internal and external factors that lead to loneliness. In other words, they would need to teach people social skills, and then help them develop their networks.