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Loneliness in Nursing Homes
Resident Loneliness in Skilled Nursing

According to a study by the University of California at San Francisco, loneliness - the feeling of emptiness - can cause suffering to people at any age. But it's especially debilitating to older adults and may predict serious health problems and even death.

Residents' Loneliness in Nursing Homes

The study found that feeling lonely does not correlate with living alone, residents in nursing homes can feel lonely too not just home-bound adults. UCSF found that 43 percent of the surveyed older adults felt lonely, yet only 18 percent lives alone.

Depression vs. Loneliness

The UCSF colleagues involved in the "loneliness" study, believe the impact of loneliness on an elderly patient is different from the effects of depression. While depression's linked to a lack of enjoyment, energy and motivation, loneliness is felt by people who are fully functional but feel empty or desolate. Read: Loneliness Linked Serious Health Problems.

Older adults move to a nursing home facility to remain safe but for many, they experience loneliness. Another study by Regional Ethics Committee for Medical Research in Health region South, Norway, discovered subcategories of resident's feelings when living in a nursing home facility:

  • feeling safe
  • feeling lonely (nurses have no time for me) loneliness, sadness, boredom, nobody to talk to and lack of companionship
  • feelings of being respected or not
  • feelings of distrust or lack of reliability in the care given

The worst part of living in a nursing home is having the feeling of being alone with no social contact with family, friends, and nurses.

Loneliness in Nursing Homes

Loneliness in Nursing Homes
Loneliness in Nursing Homes

Referring to the above study by Regional Ethics Committee for Medical Research, here are short quotes from residents on nursing home loneliness.

Feeling Safe

The residents at the nursing home emphasized that moving there made them feel safer than they felt when living at home.

All stressed feeling safe as the greatest benefit of living in a nursing home. One resident said:

"I told you before, but I must repeat that I feel very safe here! They watch us even during the night. I had terrible pain here one night and I was afraid there was something wrong with my heart. I waited for a long time and hoped it would pass, but in the end I had to call for the nurses. They came at once; yes, I got immediate help that night. The nurses don't sleep in the night here in the nursing home. I feel very safe here!" (Interview K)

Nurses Have no time for me - Feelings of loneliness and sadness

Here's a quote from a resident who clearly expresses dissatisfaction with living in the nursing home.

"I think it's very boring and sad to live here in the nursing home . I have no one to talk to. Either the residents here don't hear or they don't speak. Sometimes the nurses go outside and smoke. I smoke as well. When the nurses smoke, I drive my wheelchair out to then and smoke because I want someone to talk to . Here there is nobody to talk to - it makes my day long and boring. I wish the nurses had time to talk to us. (interview I)

Lack of Companionship

A staff that cannot find the time for residents leads to boredom and loneliness.

"The nurses do not see, nor do they meet the residents' social needs. Another resident had mixed experiences with the social community at the nursing home:

My niece is very caring and supportive. She often takes me out from the nursing home. [To me,] it doesn't matter where we're going, as long as we go out for some time. I don't have any friends here. By the way, there is a female resident here I talk with a lot. It's so nice to have someone to talk to. The nurses don't have time to talk to us; apart from when there's something extraordinary - only then do they take time to talk to us." (Interview C)

Feelings of respect

Most responded, "We're met with respect from everybody here! Sure they show respect fo us. Some of the residents are really angry with the nurses and yell at them. But the nurses never yell back or punish them in any way. They are nice to the residents and calm them. I never interfere in such situations. But the nurses meet us with respect." (Interview F)

Feelings of lack of reliability

The one thing that residents ask for is reliability. They reported that the nurses often did not follow-up on agreements such as making training appointments and other agreement related to care. The residents stressed that if a nurse had promised them something, they need to follow through immediately or at least make an agreement when it will be done. This was not always the case and residents feel frustrated. This could improve. Read the full article, Safe but Lonely, Living in a Nursing Home.

How Family and Friends Help

Visit Loved One in Nursing home
Visit Loved One in Nursing home

If you're a family member or friend of a loved one living in a nursing home, know that leaving one's home of many years and moving into a nursing home is devastating. in one, they're not surrounded by friends or family.

More than likely, she share her room with a stranger.

Loneliness is a constant battle. You can help. Here are a few ways to help loved ones deal with loneliness.

  • Visit your loved one as often as possible - She feels isolated without family. Bring family members and friends along.
  • Take them out for lunch - Take her out for the day; to lunch, to dinner, to a church service, to a movie, to visit a friend, or to the park. She enjoys spending time with someone she cares for and being away from the nursing home for a day.
  • Call and write - Residents love receiving phone calls and mail. Make sure she has a phone in her room, that'll make it easier for you to reach her.
  • Find out what scheduled activities she can participate in. Ask the Activities Director for guidance. Nursing homes offer exercise classes, arts and crafts, and social events. Go with her the first time to help her feel comfortable.

Living in a nursing home is challenging at the beginning. And for some, it's hard all the time. Loneliness can set in when there's no one familiar to spend time with. Help your loved one meet others and be active.

Carol Marak
Carol Marak

After seven years of helping her aging parents, Carol Marak has become a dedicated senior care writer. Since 2007, she has been doing the research to find answers to common concerns: housing, aging and health, staying safe and independent, and planning long-term.