Is it normal for older adults to feel lonely? No. Is it common? Yes. Very common.
While any person, at any age, may experience feelings of aloneness from time to time, a perpetual feeling of loneliness is not normal, nor healthy for the human experience. However, it is important to note that older adults are disproportionately at risk for prolonged periods of loneliness due to limitations that may come with this season of life that a younger person is less likely to experience.
There are a multitude of reasons why an otherwise social senior may begin to experience loneliness:
Changes in mobility
Difficulty driving or lack of transportation
Taking on the role of caregiver
There are many signs that an elder may be feeling lonely:
Greatly diminished or overly stimulated appetite
Overindulgence in spending, eating, or screentime
Uncharacteristically talkative or withdrawn
Gaps in memory or recollection
It is important to note that a person can be around others, and still be lonely. The cure for loneliness is connection, true connection that allows the brain to experience the hormone called oxytocin that pushes away feelings of depression, which often comes in tandem with loneliness. Without these important times of connection, the elder is likely to see a major decline in health as well.
This is why senior living communities can be a life changing experience for lonely elders. Even well-meaning families who visit regularly cannot always offer the day-to-day companionship that pushes these feelings away. Community life should be a strong consideration for anyone who is in a consistent state of aloneness.