Senior 'loneliness epidemic' strikes hard during holiday season

Seniors are facing a “loneliness epidemic,” with 43% saying they feel lonely on a regular basis. Retirement communities focus programming on social benefits to help seniors connect socially, says Jennifer Knecht with Immanuel Communities. 

Seniors are facing a “loneliness epidemic,” with 43% saying they feel lonely on a regular basis.

Surveys by the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Harvard University have all identified loneliness and social isolation as public health issues, especially among those age 45 and older.

Social isolation and loneliness can lead to a variety of negative physical and emotional effects, including anxiety, depression, heart disease and cognitive decline.

“This season can be especially hard for seniors,” says Jennifer Knecht, Immanuel vice president of marketing and sales. “Older adults are often faced with redefining their roles in holiday traditions. That can be hard.”

Busy family schedules and transportation challenges can intensify feelings of loneliness, Knecht says.

“Loneliness doesn’t just impact seniors, but the issues for this population are often swept under the rug,” Knecht says. “Raising awareness and fighting against this loneliness epidemic is one of Immanuel Communities’ top priorities.”

Retirement communities, like those at Immanuel, focus programming on social benefits to help seniors connect, Knecht says. Holiday performances, special dinners and other social activities for the entire family can help alleviate loneliness.

“Despite a busy schedule, the holidays are a great time to connect with your aging loved ones and access how they’re feeling,” Knecht says.

According to the AARP, potential signs of loneliness can include poor eating habits, loss of interest in personal hygiene or appearance, and significant clutter in the home, as well as a general lack of interest or withdrawal.

“Symptoms of loneliness are complex,” Knecht says. “But identifying the signs and getting help as soon as you notice them can make a big difference.”

1) Take the online loneliness assessment at Find out if you or your senior loved one is at risk. This assessment has been provided by Daniel Russell, Ph.D., one of the creators of the UCLA Loneliness Scale, to determine your loneliness quotient.

2) Learn what help is available. Living choices, programs and activities can help lessen feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

3) Ask for support. A senior living consultant can guide you.

4) Make the choice. Which solution helps foster feelings of liveliness and connection?

“Companionship is particularly important for seniors,” Knecht says. “We hear from residents that our programming gives them a social connection they didn’t have before.”

Meaningful connections, she says, are an important aspect of aging well. For seniors living at home, even with their spouse, connections require extra effort. Add transportation difficulties or inclement weather and seniors may forego social events entirely.

In contrast, social programming at retirement communities allows residents to pick and choose the social engagement they desire, just a few steps from their door.

“There’s a great array of opportunities at every Immanuel community,” Knecht says. “From art classes to yoga and fitness, movie night, billiards, dining and dancing.”

Immanuel’s newest programming, Thrive by Immanuel, has been introduced at various Immanuel Communities across Omaha and Lincoln. The programming offers state-of-the-art amenities and events with a commitment to wellness of the whole person — mind, body and spirit.

Education courses, social engagement, spiritual support and wellness are all incorporated through nine Thrive principles: music, wellness, connection, faith, recreation, community, creativity, service and lifelong learning.

“We’ve had such great success with Thrive,” Knecht says. “Social engagement truly is one of our greatest amenities.”

If you’re concerned about senior loneliness for yourself or a loved one, reach out today. Visit or call 402-682-8184.

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.