While listening to a morning show and getting ready for work, I was struck by the information shared by a diverse group discussing the staggering epidemic of loneliness and its associated health implications. Surprisingly, that same afternoon I received my first call from an elderly lady asking me to help her deal with her loneliness. I didn’t ask the caller if she’d seen the same morning show I had watched, so I wondered if it was a coincidence. I felt the need to do research on the topic prior to the meeting, since I’d never previously received a direct request for help with loneliness. While I’ve observed many of my senior clients experiencing the condition, I didn’t realize how widespread the problem is in our culture and its ensuing risks to health and well-being.
Approximately 42.6 million American adults (one in three adults age 45 or older) are suffering from loneliness. Furthermore, the health implications exceed the mortality rate of smoking and obesity combined. One striking fact is the condition is not the result of social isolation, rather a lack of quality relationships versus the number of relationships. Studies reveal that loneliness may be a predictor of depression, but depression is not a predictor of loneliness.
Individuals suffering from the malady experience hormonal changes that may lead to a greater risk of heart disease, hypertension, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and dementia. Failure to share loneliness with a physician leaves a void in treating the root cause of health problems and well-being.
Suggestions for individuals experiencing being alone include finding ways to become connected. Consider seeking activities that you enjoy rather than trying to force socialization. For example, taking a class about an area of interest, volunteering for a cause you care about or attending programs at a senior center. Psychologists report that it takes six to eight encounters with an individual before the relationship is viewed as the start of a friendship. Choosing routine and activities you enjoy will more likely lead to meaningful and sustainable relationships.
Adults who are homebound or who prefer to socialize from home may join the San Francisco-based Well Connected program, a non-profit foundation serving 38 states. Members may make toll-free phone calls or log in at scheduled times to join chats and take courses. Visit Covia.org or call 925.956.7400 to learn more.
Each of us is at risk of experiencing loneliness. Frequently, individuals aren’t aware they’re suffering from it. It’s important to pay attention to your feelings as they arise and also identify opportunities to support others you suspect may be feeling lonely.