In a study of 1,600 seniors, researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) found that people who reported being lonely were more likely to suffer a decline in health or die over a six-year period than those who were content with their social lives.
Loneliness didn’t necessarily mean being alone – almost two-thirds of seniors who reported feeling lonely were married or living with a partner. Researchers defined loneliness as feeling left out or isolated or lacking companionship.
While not a new issue the UCSF study is among the largest to look at loneliness, as opposed to general depression.
- About 43 percent of the adults reported feeling lonely at least some of the time.
- Of those seniors, 23 percent died over the six-year study, compared to 14 percent of the participants who weren’t lonely – a 45 percent increase.
- The lonely seniors had a 59 percent greater risk of suffering a decline in function.
Many studies have shown that having a broad social network contributes to a quality of life as you age. What fascinates me is the finding that two-thirds who reported feeling lonely were married or living with a partner. The San Franscisco Chronicle article in the ‘read more’ below notes that couples may drift apart as they get older. They don’t have the same shared interests. They may feel unable to connect with both their children and their grandchildren because of generational or lifestyle differences. And they don’t want to bother anyone.
I suggest that we take this study seriously and also own up to our responsibilities as sons and daughters. Especially if you live in the same place, there is no excuse for social isolation of mom and dad. We must create families of inclusion.
And while family is one foundational rock, there are other outlets in our communities that provide opportunities to develop meaningful relationships, whether it be senior centers or adult day care.
There is no reason for a senior to just drift away into loneliness, illness then death.
We need to encourage them too if they are reluctant to reach out for the resources available or find it hard to make friends.