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Friday, 28 February 2014

Loneliness and Premature Death of Elders

I was shocked last week when these two headlines popped into my inbox:

Loneliness in Seniors Increases Chance of Premature Death and Loneliness Twice as Unhealthy as Obesity for Older People, Study Finds

It has been well known for a long time that social isolation is a serious health risk for elders. The late geriatrician, Robert N. Butler, noted that depression resulting in suicide of people 65 and older is often caused by loneliness.

Now, both of the headlines above are referring to a new study from the University of Chicago that has quantified the results of loneliness in old people:

”The scientists tracked more than 2,000 people aged 50 and over and found that the loneliest were nearly twice as likely to die during the six-year study than the least lonely," reports The Guardian.

“Compared with the average person in the study, those who reported being lonely had a 14% greater risk of dying. The figure means that loneliness has around twice the impact on an early death as obesity. Poverty increased the risk of an early death by 19%.”

[Psychologist John Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago discussed this research recently at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Chicago. I haven't been able to locate the study so it may not be published yet.]

The Guardian story referenced another study on loneliness in Great Britain from 2012:

”The findings point to a coming crisis as the population ages and people increasingly live alone or far from their families. A study of loneliness in older Britons in 2012 found that more than a fifth felt lonely all the time, and a quarter became more lonely over five years.

“Half of those who took part in the survey said their loneliness was worse at weekends, and three-quarters suffered more at night.”

Of course, no one needs experts to tell us that the solution – with appropriate consideration for people who enjoy a lot of time alone – is to stay connected with family, if they are nearby, and with friends. And to make new friends.

There are several impediments to connecting that occur to me. Although psychologists suggest that we keep in touch with colleagues who are still working, that doesn't usually happen for both good and not-so-good reasons.

Sometimes we move to new locations leaving old friends behind. And some old friends have the poor manners to die. Last year, three friends of mine going back four decades died. If I don't kick off first, that is not going to stop happening.

Most of us yearn for personal connections with others. When we are younger, we often make new friends through our children's activities and, certainly, work. In retirement, that becomes more difficult.

One morning earlier this week, I met a new acquaintance at a local coffee shop. We talked about the grassroots group where we had met and we wandered around other topics in the way people do who are getting to know one another. The subject of making new friends in old age came up.

My acquaintance and his wife moved to this area a few years ago and have not met many people. He was somewhat apologetic telling me that joining the Village group is, in addition to working on a project he believes in, a way to meet new people.

In no way should he apologize. One of the best ways to meet others (at any time in life) is to join groups with which we have an affinity. There's nothing wrong with doing good and finding a friend or two or more in the process; you know the two of you have at least one thing in common from the getgo.

There are two coffee shops in my area where, I have noticed, retired people in particular gather fairly early every day to have breakfast and hang out together.

I'm too eager for coffee first thing to wait to shower, dress and drive somewhere so that idea doesn't work well for me. But for many others, it does. A friend of mine in Maine has made a couple of new friends at the gym he goes to several days a week.

As my acquaintance and I continued talking, he suggested that how to meet new people after retiring would be a good topic for this blog and I'm taking his suggestion.

What has been your experience in making new friends as you have grown older? Are you lonely? Have you reached out to anyone you thought you'd like to know? Or has someone reached out to you? What is your best advice?

Tell us your friendship – or loneliness - stories today.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: Small Disappointments


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 08:47 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

The possibility of being lonely is one of the reasons I urge my friends here at the assisted living facility where I live to think twice before deciding to leave and live on their own. While many of these people are physically well enough to take care of themselves, most are not prepared for the possibility of being isolated. Having no family near and most friends have moved far away, I thank god that I have some human contact everyday.

It doesn't come as much of a surprise that poverty and loneliness are highly correlated with earlier death. Those who are fortunate to have resources and the ability to do something to fend off increased isolation probably fare better, but those with mental and emotional disturbances, mobility difficulties, and poverty, will struggle more with this. I hope that, as a society, we begin to put a lot more thought into things that separate us in so many ways. I hope this village movement takes off all over.

Love this topic. I made friends with a couple sweetheart seniors in my area by putting a flyer in their mailboxes and doing their gardening.

Just got back from having breakfast with Positive M.

She has given me so many ideas. I love her. She's 89, now living a short walk away in a newly built senior home.

I also bought a badminton racket and began taking lessons. Met lots of people all ages.

I volunteer in a food bank and at an adult ESL school where I meet people from all over the world.

I signed up for caliente dance, pilates.

I take french conversation classes at night with people of all ages.

The primo thing that killed my former shy self, was visiting the USA as a snowbird where everyone we meet greets us with "how are you doing?"

I come back to Montreal after our road trips south, yakking it up to strangers.

If they don't respond, who cares? It;s cool to be kind.

Last thing. Do something good for someone for no reason, like pay for the coffee of the person behind you.

Stuff like that goes a long way to building community.

Great topic.

By the way, Bruce Cooper, I tried to send you a message using your hotmail addy, but it bounced back.

For some people--certainly for me--having people around is important, but it doesn't necessarily preclude a sense of loneliness. I'm working, and I do enjoy and benefit from the company of my colleagues. At the same time, though, there is a particular kind of loneliness associated with spending most of my waking hours with people whose worldview is different from my own because of the difference in our ages.

Don't misunderstand me; I realize this is not like being alone in one's house, or not having friends or family for company. But it's not the same as being emotionally and/or intellectually close to someone either.

Making new friends at any age or new location isn't easy for most people. You have to put yourself out there. Having retired before my husband and then moving to a new town, I took a bit to settle into the area. Then I looked to volunteering and finding a group to paint with at the local art center. As I get older and may not be able to go out as much on my own, I hope I don't put up roadblocks to doing things as I saw my parents and other older friends do. Hopefully, I can still find a way to do something for others even in the smallest ways. It always has paid dividends in friendships. Just visiting/listening to someone or learning something new can lead to new contacts. And may I always have the companionship of a pet!

Occasionally I have found myself getting lonely when I wait for things to come to me. So kicking my own keister is my best bet to get out literally and figuratively. Will I always have the ability to kick myself?

The Village concept is intriguing and one of many innovations we can expect to sprout from the growth in elder populations.

I have always found that volunteering is a great way to relieve boredom or loneliness. It does get harder as my mobility gets more challenged. But I think it is fun to work on Christmas projects for people who would not normally have gifts and to help year round with similar projects. You can ask Churches and other organizations in your area if they know of any ongoing projects and choose something you would like to try.

I used to submit my comic stuff and it was well received. Now I would really like to resubmit , however I don't know how to do that word press program. HELP ?

"I used to be tall,and physically strong,
But with time it wasn't long,
Before aging conspired to change my
shape
So I look like a raisin,tho' once was a
grape"

Lonliness has not been an issue for me, but making new friends has been a life long challenge. Every 5 to10 years I find myself in a new environment due to various life events. When I was young, marriage, kids and jobs provided sufficient opportunities for friendships,, but retirement to a new town was much more difficult. Fortunately, my connection to a liberal religious community provided both like minded companions and the opportunity to make a difference and make good friends at the same time, much as you are doing with your involvement in the Village movement.

But, after 7 years, we decided to move back to the midwest to be nearer family. I was not prepared for the huge sense of loss that came with leaving the first really close friends I'd ever had. However, the acquaintances I had here from 16 years previous and the church community, again, provided a beginning for new friendships.

Being a couple also has its challenges in finding folks compatible with both for friends. Thinking about it Ronni, sometime might we have a discussion about the differences between aging as a single and as a couple? The loneliness factor might be at play here, too.


situation of aging it is or single and coupled elders?

Oops. Careless editing. Sorry

I'm eighty eight years old, still drive and live in the North East where the winter has been terrible.

With all the snow, ice, freezing weather and slippery roads I have not driven much.

I live in a retirement community where there are many people and many activities. All I have to do is walk out of my apartment (if I feel like it) and find what to do and people to do things with, even if its just to pick up the mail and have a cup of coffee in the lounge.

If I hadn't relocated I would have been stuck in my condo all by myself!

It's one of the best decisions I've ever made!

Oh boy - can I give advice . . .

VOLUNTEER. In the library, in a classroom as a sub or mentor to a slow reader, tutor math, assist in a science program, clean tables, do something anything where there are others.!

Loneliness, by my definition, is in your head. It's a decision you made that justifies your own homemade isolation.

My advice? Don't allow that thought to enter or cross your mind.

My monthly lunch group consists of 5 of us from ages 40 to 75. I like having friends of varied ages and especially enjoy being around young people. I meet people on my walking trail every day and tomorrow we'll all get together for the annual city It's My Park Day to clean up our neighborhood nature preserve.

Ronni,

Sometimes ,especially when it snows,-and it seems as if it is always snowing- I don't have the opportunity to get out and see the few people that I know.

Yes, it gets very lonely but then, the UPS truck comes in my street and.. be still my heart.. I think he is coming to my house.. Yes, he IS coming to my house. He has a package for me to open and discover what my dear friend has sent to help me through this awful Winter..

What a wonderful and generous gesture... With friends like this who could be lonely?

How can you be lonely with Ronni and her gang to relate to?

Seriously, I treasure my alone time (and I have plenty of it these days). But I know I'll always find fun and meaningful conversation at Ronni's place.

Love your poem, Deb

My severely disabled husband passed away two years ago after me being his caregiver for 12 years. since then I've been trying to network into finding a circle of friends. I joined the Red Hat Society and I volunteer at a small museum plus I take part in many activities at the senior hall. I have met a lot of nice acquaintances BUT that doesn't solve the loneliness issue. I know where to go for group fun and enrichment, but...I want more.

My mother was very good at finding new friends when her old friends died. Me? Not so much. I've been volunteering at the Dumb Friends League. You're probably thinking this isn't an ideal place if you want to meet people and you'd be partly right. I would love more than anything to tutor in a literacy program, but have yet to find one in my area.

I would like to warn people who want to move some place to be closer to children: it doesn't always work out very well. The children have lives of there own and don't really have time for aging parents. It's happened to me and I've seen it happen to many others here where I live. One couple moved here from across the country because of their daughter who now wants to move back to TX where she lived before.

Being poor is something most people do not understand. When the last week of the month comes and there is no money for food, much less coffee shops or plays, it is next to impossible to not be lonely. There is no gas in the car to go volunteer and of course, no one to talk with about it because no one wants to hear from a poor elderly person.
Of course the poor and lonely elderly die early deaths. This is nothing new.

When I retired from teaching two years ago I went from interacting with at least 90 people a day to the hubby. None of my work friendships continued. I gained one new friend through my book club, re-activated a friendship from long ago, took up golf and met two women there. Then a writing group that I attend once a week, and I've just formed another writing group here in my town where I'm hopeful I'll meet more people. Finding friends takes WORK and it's hard to know sometimes where to start.

When I retired six years ago, I knew that if I really wanted to retire I would need to leave the town I'd lived in for forty years. Hubby and I packed up and moved from Colorado to the Pacific Northwest. The first thing I did was join the YMCA and start taking classes there. Then I joined the Senior Center and started hiking with the Senior Trailblazers, learning all about the beautiful environment I had moved into.

I also ride the bus every morning when I go to the Y and stop at a local coffee shop beforehand. The people there have become such good friends they feel like family. My life is full and the companions I have now are all I could ever have hoped for in retirement.

Plus there are several activities waiting in the wings if my ability to be mobile and active begins to wane, like volunteering to teach adults how to read.

Oh, and blogging! I love my "family" that I've adopted in "Blogaritaville." You all fill my days with smiles and tears; I cannot see a future where I would be lonely. :-)

Because of your posts & the comments this week, we called an older friend last night and met for lunch today. It was great fun and we're planning to do this more often.

I'm in pretty much the same boat as Jean. Caregiver for more than a decade, widowed for three years. I have.no kids, but am now helping out my 90-something parents, who are still good company and need assistance, not care. I have lots of siblings, nieces and nephews, and a small cohort of grandnieces and -nephews that grew by two this very morning! I am involved in two organizations, have work I like a lot, and am learning something new .

And, I am deeply lonely, in the inconsolable way of not being primary to anyone, not coming home to anyone, not sleeping in contact with anyone's flesh. A widower can find that again in a flash, if he wants it (did you read Roger Angell's piece in the New Yorker about being 93? He hinted that he'd found it). A widow cannot, because there are just so many more of us .

The best way to make a friend is to be interested in the other person. Make sure you listen to what they say and ask questions. Give thoughtful responses to subjects they bring up. Pay attention to current events so you will have interesting topics to bring up and discuss yourself. Don't dwell on talking about your ailments or your problems, and don't be a negative person. Try to be cheerful and look on the bright side of life.

I have read every comment and my heart hurts for lonely folks. I have retired and now work for Meals On Wheels. If and when I quit that job, I will volunteer. I see really lonely folks everyday. IF you can get out...please do. The people we serve are home bound and Lonely!...and it breaks my heart. Selfishly I always wonder if I will be one of those lonely clients in the not too distant future. Meals on Wheels is everywhere...might be something to try:)

@ Rubye Jack: I wish we would talk more about the importance of money in all this. Joining the local Y costs $500; even an Internet connection is, or may become, a luxury for some of us.
@ Amba: That's the kind of loneliness I mean, and how beautifully you put it: "...the inconsolable loneliness of not being primary to anyone..."

This is a fascinating topic. I live with a kind loving man who was raised to be alone, and he likes being alone. He grew up without friends while being yanked country to country. When I met him, he had no old friends while my life was filled with childhood, college, and work friends.

I've found that I have to be extra vigilant on my own behalf because of this household tendency to aloneness. Perhaps because I volunteer at the American Cancer Society, blog and meet these folks, stay in contact with old friends, go to a couple of meetings a week, and exercise with some wonderful folks every day, I'm well socialized despite myself.

It does take a village.

I've always been a loner by nature so I don't worry much about being "lonely" as far as friends are concerned. I don't need lots of people around, but I do worry about outliving my spouse (he's 84 to my 77). I volunteer and am still working part time, but he and I have been more or less joined at the hip, as they say, since we met almost 40 years ago. We're not "dependent" on each other, but we are interdependent. I'm not sure that I would continue on for long without him.

There's somebody out there for everyone, if they'd just be open to it and start looking. A friend or a lover or both, what does it matter at our age?

Someone complained about no gas for the car; I have no car! (I complained I had no shoes till I met someone without feet). Not being mobile really cramps my style as far as going out and seeing or meeting people. I have a lot of other reasons tho why it's hard to make friends now: my cantankerous ways; a TBI son who needs me; and my need to be alone to write. Still, I'm sure lonely. Never realized when I wanted to be single that it's great when you're 40 but not when you're over 60.

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