Poor eating habits, loss of interest in personal hygiene or appearance, significant clutter in the home, and a general lack of interest or withdrawal — they may be signs of loneliness, which can be a chronic threat to health and happiness.

According to medical experts and the AARP, the symptoms of loneliness are complex, and they might even be hidden, but the appearance of symptoms can be predicted.

Loneliness often sets in when there are big changes in a person’s life.

For example, most people look forward to retirement. They plan for it and even set aside money so they can live their dreams, but walking away from a career can take away the social interactions that are a part of the workplace.

Other circumstances can isolate and lead to loneliness, including the loss of hearing, the onset of a serious health problem or a loved one’s death.

All of these reasons and others may prevent people from being a part of the events and interactions that make us feel together and needed.

This week, as temperatures plunged and people decided it might be more prudent to stay home than to venture out into the cold, some of us may have wondered whether our elderly neighbor was getting along OK. That’s a neighborly thought, but how many times do we just shrug off the concern, rather than knocking on the door or making a call? An aging neighbor might have a pantry packed with groceries, but they could be suffering from an empty spirit.

Omaha-based Immanuel Communities reported this week that loneliness afflicts one in three aging adults, making senior loneliness a genuine health epidemic. Experts tell us that loneliness shortens lifespans and seriously compromises seniors’ quality of life.

Immanuel — a nonprofit provider of retirement communities and services — has an online loneliness assessment at https://www.immanuel.com/lonelinessassessment.

You might learn whether you or an aging loved one is at risk. The assessment is a useful tool, but learning about loneliness needs to lead to action. There are ways to combat loneliness. Seniors or their loved ones can seek out resources in their communities that provide contact and companionship. Joining a club, volunteering and taking up a hobby might be helpful.

Here’s another thought: Be a good neighbor. Let your generous spirit guide you as you get to know the folks living next door. Neighbors ought to look out for each other. Think what a friendly chat or a helping hand might mean to you if you were alone.

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