E S S A Y Loneliness. It’s a killer. Really. An AARP research study found that 17% of adults age 65 and older are isolated. They are facing a 26% increased risk of death due to these subjective feelings of loneliness. Of those over age 75, 51% are living alone. It’s a very safe bet that you and I know someone in this category.
Chronic loneliness is already posing a disturbing mental health threat and it’s growing. We live in a society where offspring leave the nest and relocate in far-off places with little connection to their parents beyond telephone calls, texts and emails. Many aging boomers are hanging on to larger homes rather than downsizing to more collective living options such as assisted living facilities or even apartment complexes where they would have more social contact. Downsizing may be a loss of square footage but that’s outweighed by the expanded social contact that can be gained.
Exploring options to participate in fitness programs or continuing education courses is another avenue that lonely boomers are going to need to consider if they are really motivated to reduce their isolation. Libraries and religious facilities are also logical places to seek out social connection.
The most obvious solution is for boomers to actively support each other. If you know someone living alone, you can be a link to the outside world for them. You’re helping them feel less lonely and you’re helping yourself. The baby boomer generation can act as a giant buddy system which would go a long way to combatting this potential mental health crisis.
You might be thinking that this loneliness problem is something far off in your life. Ask someone who has lost a spouse about the one thing that has changed most about their life and you will see that loneliness tops the possible answers you will get. Yes, this should be the time to do great things with our lives but it does not take much to throw those plans out the window. Illness, death or disability can change your social dynamic irrevocably overnight.
Final words of advice to baby boomers. Unite! Be there for each other. It’s that simple and it will prove that boomers are not as self-centered as some think we are. So there’s that.