You’ve seen scary headlines about an epidemic of loneliness spreading among seniors. Old age is very bad; Now you’re starting to worry about how being alone increases your risk of everything from dementia to obesity.
Yet for many retirees, the most gratifying moments happen in isolation. Solo activities like reading, painting and gardening provide complete satisfaction.
If you love solitary hobbies, should you leave them for more social ones? Are bachelors doomed?
to take a rest. Unless you’re a monk—and you occasionally mix in some social interaction—you’re not on the road to mental and physical ruin.
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“Loners have gotten a bad rap,” said Catherine Asti, PhD, a retired psychiatrist in Concord, Mass. “There is nothing bad in working alone. It becomes unhealthy only when people become lonely, which is a different matter.
She describes loneliness as feeling unhappy with your relationships or lack thereof. Someone who embraces solitude – and remains busy and agitated in fulfilling activities – may spend most of their time alone but never experiences a crisis of loneliness.
“It’s possible to feel lonely even in a room full of people,” said Dr. Lewis Hockley, a lead research scientist at the NORC organization at the University of Chicago. “It’s not the number of friends you have or how much time you spend around people. It’s more closely related to the quality of those relationships.”
So here’s the good news: Single people are not sure to have a stroke, early cognitive impairment, or uncontrollable weight gain, as long as they maintain some meaningful relationships. On the other hand, if you go weeks without seeing anyone else, you’re not quite in the right position.
“Casual relationships in your community are an important level of contact,” said 87-year-old Asti, author of “eightysomethings“It’s those little bits of human connection that really matter, waiting in line with the pharmacist or at the market or smiling at someone. When we spend time alone, we often forget that Who we are. The smallest exchange—or a little eye contact—can change your day.”
If nothing else, fans of the solo hobby may want to make occasional calls to old friends or relatives. Keeping up your week with some heated conversations can help in itself.
“Even a five-minute phone conversation can give you a tremendous boost,” Asti said.
Another trick for satisfied bachelors is to share their cherished hobby with others. Find an outlet to compare notes with others who like to do what you love to do. Simply in their company (online or in person) add a social component to an otherwise solitary activity.
“If you love knitting, try teaching it to a knitting group,” said owner Lynn Paxson Oasis Senior Consultant Delaware, part of a nationwide network that provides assistance with senior living placement. “You can learn a lot from training other people. It keeps your mind sharp. You get to use executive functioning skills.”
If you find that you prefer to spend more alone time as you get older, that’s definitely your prerogative. You have earned the right to call your own shots and live life on your own terms.
Paxson, a certified senior counselor, suggests asking yourself, “Why am I holding back from being social?”
“You might be covering a health condition like hearing loss,” she said. “One of the reasons people self-isolate is because they want to control the environment around them and keep it small and manageable.”
Alternatively, you may conclude that you are too lazy to engage in human communication. Being a bookworm provides a way to activate your imagination and spend a peaceful afternoon without getting dressed and leaving the house.
You can uncover other issues to determine why you are less interested in socializing. Maybe you are mourning a loss or feeling distracted by recent changes in your life.
“Your friends may be dead and you’re afraid to make new friends,” Paxson said. “This can lead to fear and anxiety. It can mean dusting off a skill set that you haven’t used in a while.”