The Christmas holiday season is enjoyed as a time of peace and joy as people everywhere embrace the message of good will to all.

But for the elderly population here in central Nebraska and throughout the country, December isn’t necessarily a respite from the epidemic of loneliness among U.S. senior citizens.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.5 million older adults live in one-person households, representing 28 percent of people age 65 or older. The National Poll on Healthy Aging reported earlier this year that 1 in 3 senior citizens suffer from loneliness.

“Research shows that chronic loneliness can impact older adults’ memory, physical well-being, mental health and life expectancy,” write the authors of the report sponsored by AARP. “In fact, some research suggests that chronic loneliness may shorten life expectancy even more than being overweight or sedentary, and just as much as smoking.”

More than a third of seniors in the poll said they felt a lack of companionship at least some of the time. Almost 30 percent said they socialized with friends, family or neighbors once a week or less.

According to 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.

This is why it’s so important for people who are living alone because of the death of a spouse and those who find themselves more isolated after retirement to seek out ways to socialize with each other.

Grand Island and other central Nebraska communities have senior centers that seek to provide activities, daily meals and a place for seniors to socialize with each other.

It is also important that retired people embrace the opportunities in their communities to volunteer as they provide ways to continue to feel needed and to interact with people of all ages.

For example, volunteers help the Grand Island Public Library operate. There also are volunteers on duty every day at CHI Health St. Francis and the local schools.

Those of us who live near elderly people also can help out with tasks such as clearing snow from sidewalks and carrying groceries in from the car. Then, at the same time, we can just stop in to say hi and spend some time talking.

It’s important that we all look for ways to make connections with the people who have been so important to our communities in the past, but now may be struggling with the effects of aging and becoming more isolated. There is great value in their life experiences and we all can continue to contribute well into our 80s and 90s if steps are taken to protect our physical and mental well-being.

Grand Island Independent