Understanding the Loneliness Epidemic

Who suffers from loneliness?

As people get older, they begin to lose the people they love. They may be admitted to a nursing home and only see relatives once a month during visiting hours. Perhaps they start to forget their fondest memories.

It comes as no surprise that the loneliness epidemic is proliferating throughout our senior societies. Recent science has proven loneliness to be of significant concern to public health, particularly to the elderly. With 40% of women over the age of 75 living alone – that’s eating, sleeping, working, thinking alone – it is clear that loneliness has settled on an easy target.

In 2004, one-quarter of Americans felt they lacked a companion with whom they felt confident confiding, An evidently common affliction, loneliness is often coupled with a lack of acceptance in those experiencing it. But even if acceptance can be reached, speaking out about such a vulnerable topic that is largely unaddressed in society can be daunting, further promoting isolation in sufferers.

Without necessary integration of aged individuals into communities with which they can connect, our nation, where life expectancy is increasing, will only note a perpetuation and worsening of this growing epidemic.

Is there a loneliness scale?

Although loneliness as a research focus has generally taken a back seat, shunned for not being a ‘real’ disease or public health issue, there have always been a few passionate individuals holding up the field.

For years, researchers have worked towards generating reliable ‘scales’ of loneliness. Without such a scale, prescriptions will be harder to fine-tune to each individual’s specific level of loneliness. This complex web of human perception in combination with hormonal and circumstantial factors has been hard to unravel.

By monitoring a person’s perceived levels of companionship, isolation and whether or not they simply feel left out, health researchers have been able to provide a measure for this diagnosis.

Cynics, however, are not so easily convinced. It has been argued that the ‘bar’ for loneliness is set too low during research and that, in fact, low levels of loneliness can be beneficial for a healthy lifestyle.

How to overcome loneliness

Whether we’re cynical or not about a specific diagnosis, Britain's recent appointment must speak for something. The nation recently created a new position, appointing Tracey Crouch to act as the country's Minister for Loneliness.

In the United States, most people over the age of 60 are currently experiencing loneliness. Loneliness is linked to depression, diabetes and cancer. It is also known to reduce life expectancy more than heavy smoking or obesity.

Affected individuals are reaching out, sometimes forging false ailments to yield attention and assistance from a physician who can help. Most are simply in need of a companion, with whom they can while away an hour or two at best.

Without interventions, and global acceptance of loneliness as a contemporary public health issue, such isolation, seclusion and social segregation will continue to rise, threatening our aging population’s quality of life.