WHAT IS LONELINESS?
At its most basic, it is the lack of fulfilling social connection in people who yearn to feel connected.
The web of meaningful connections that keeps us healthy has “frayed to the breaking point.”
The holiday season is here. Several of this blog’s posts in years past have focused on holiday loneliness, offering ideas to mitigate some of it. That said, holiday loneliness is one thing. Perpetual loneliness is another, leading to sobering health consequences. We often think of the emotional. Do we understand the physical? And the implications for lonely, aging parents?
UCLA Health’s recent Lonely Planet article (click this link or “loneliness” in Newsworthy at top right) reiterates what many of us know: “Loneliness and social isolation take a steep toll on the human body.” But are we aware that “Studies show people who are chronically lonely have significantly more heart disease, are more vulnerable to metastatic cancer, have an increased risk of stroke and are more likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s? Lonely adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely, while elderly people who are lonely die at twice the rate as those who are socially connected. All of which makes the spike in loneliness in American society even more alarming,” according to the article.
Steve Cole, PhD (FEL ’98), UCLA professor of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and John Cacioppo, PhD, founder and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, and UCLA Dr. have done extensive research which Lonely Planet explains. Dr. Cacioppo says “The mortality rate for air pollution is 5 percent,“For loneliness, it’s 25 percent.” We also learn 1/5 of the population suffers from loneliness.
While we know that older people’s social interactions decrease with age and friends die and/or move, and often family members don’t live near, options for meaningful social interactions have further decreased. Why? Think social media. The options for socialization may be broader, but they’re not deeper, thus encouraging loneliness, which Dr. Cole calls “a pending epidemic.”
Which bring us back to the holidays. Most adult children are capable of supplying the patches–temporarily filling the holiday loneliness void for aging parents. Meanwhile one researcher’s summation is “work that is physically demanding, cognitively stimulating and socially rewarding rids loneliness in older adults.” With this in mind, impressive results for overcoming loneliness–much more lasting than a patch–are now being achieved by an intergenerational project resulting from UCLA-Johns Hopkins research: Generation Xchange, Lonely Planet supplies the details.
It may take a village to raise a child, but it may also take a village to provide meaningful work to dispel loneliness and keep grandparents healthy in the village.