Living alone can be difficult, especially for seniors who are dealing with the declines and limitations associated with aging.

It’s a growing concern.

As baby boomers age, the number of so-called “elder orphans” – those who are single, widowed and without nearby family – will dramatically increase.

The Lowcountry is no exception. We have our elder orphans, too, and can show them we care. Neighbors, even entire communities, can act to recognize and address their needs and make things better.

Sometimes, it can be as easy as phoning or dropping by to chat and break the lonely spell. But each elder orphan, like all of us, has individual needs and ways to best address their isolation.

It’s important – both for those living alone and for those who know and can help them – to recognize the potential problems of isolation and address them head-on. For many, reducing isolation and loneliness will enhance their ability to stay independent and within the comforts of home.

We can find ways to socialize, both at home and in the community, and to recognize and accept when assistance is needed for things that were once routine, like driving, going shopping, cooking or bathing.

Engaging with others is good for all of us. As a volunteer driver with Meals on Wheels, I enjoy chatting with the folks on my delivery route, most of them seniors living alone.

At first I thought delivering meals was all there was to the task. But now I understand that I can turn frowns into smiles through small talk and listening. (Sometimes it’s my frown that changes!)

My friend Sam Sellers, a gerontologist and former AARP executive now operating an Arkansas home elder care business, addresses loneliness in his book, “Finding Freedom at Home.”

He cites research tying loneliness to both functional declines and death, and being “a common source of distress, suffering and impaired quality of life in older persons.”

He notes simply sharing a meal or enjoying a game of Scrabble can tremendously boost a person’s well-being, and that happiness can come from providing a quick trip to the local library or farmers’ market. “For many people, ” Sam writes, “the simple joy of … company is enough to put a smile on their face.”

I hope we all will think about someone who may be alone, an elder orphan, and realize we have an opportunity to make their life and ours better, healthier and less lonely.

Debbie Morris, MA, EDs, is CEO of Home Helpers Home Care and Home Health and certified by the National Academy of Certified Care Managers.;