New York Times Article: (British) Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness
09/06/16--I suppose I could have called this topic "Eleanor Rigby" deja vu. I've heavily shortened this article since much of it quotes researchers in this field as well as having many anecdotal type case histories.
About 10,000 calls come in weekly to an unassuming office building in this seaside town (Blackpool) at the northwest reaches of England, which houses The Silver Line Helpline, a 24-hour call center for older adults seeking to fill a basic need: contact with other people.
....in Britain, it (lonliness) is increasingly being viewed as something more: a serious public health issue deserving of public funds and national attention.
Working with local governments and the National Health Service, programs aimed at mitigating loneliness have sprung up in dozens of cities and towns. Even fire brigades have been trained to inspect homes not just for fire safety but for signs of social isolation.
“There’s been an explosion of public awareness here, from local authorities to the Department of Health to the media,” said Paul Cann, chief executive of Age UK Oxfordshire and a founder of The Campaign to End Loneliness, a five-year-old group based in London. “Loneliness has to be everybody’s business.”
Researchers have found mounting evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and to functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity.
In Britain and the United States, roughly one in three people older than 65 live alone, and in the United States, half of those older than 85 live alone. Studies in both countries show the prevalence of loneliness among people older than 60 ranging from 10 percent to 46 percent.
While the public, private and volunteer sectors in Britain are mobilizing to address loneliness, researchers are deepening their understanding of its biological underpinnings....
The unspoken stigma of loneliness is amply evident during calls to The Silver Line. Most people call asking for advice on, say, roasting a turkey. Many call more than once a day. One woman rings every hour to ask the time. Only rarely will someone speak frankly about loneliness.
Silver Line workers leave it up to the caller to mention whether they are feeling lonely. Still, the advisers are trained to listen for signs of unhappy isolation, and gently lead the conversation accordingly, perhaps offering to link the caller to a Silver Line Friend, a volunteer who makes weekly phone calls or writes letters to those who request it.
Sophie Andrews, chief executive of The Silver Line, said she was surprised by the explosion of calls shortly after the service began operating nearly three years ago. The Blackpool call center now receives some 1,500 calls a day.
Ms. Andrews said she was most concerned not about those who called The Silver Line, but those who were too depressed by their isolation to pick up the phone. “We need to raise awareness with the people who are the hardest to reach,” she said.
Although plenty of research into loneliness takes place in the United States, Britain remains well ahead in addressing the problem.
“In the U.S., there isn’t much recognition in terms of public health initiatives or the average person recognizing that loneliness has to do with health,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, whose studies also link loneliness to deteriorating health.
Age UK, an organization similar to AARP in the United States, oversees an array of programs aimed at decreasing loneliness and coordinates efforts with fire brigades to look for signs of loneliness and isolation in the homes they enter.
Another charity, Open Age, runs some 400 activities each week in Central London — sewing circles, current events discussions, book clubs and exercise and computer classes, held at church halls, sport centers, housing projects — and its employees also visit people in their homes to try to get them out and about.
Men and women differ greatly in how they grapple with loneliness. Seventy percent of the calls to The Silver Line are from women.
Me here: NOT covered in this article is that the elderly tend to be on multiple prescription medications; they all have side effects, but NOT everyone experiences any, or ALL of them, and those that are experienced vary from mild to severe; all pharmacies attach an extensive clinical handout for each prescription, and a great many warn about the possibility of experiencing drowsiness or dizziness (corporate liability response, I'm sure). AND it is impossible to tell whether ANY symptoms are the result of the medication(s), medication interactions, or simply the disease itself (OR some undiagnosed disease) since the medications don't cure the disease but simply tamper down the symptoms. And for those with sleep problems, to include those who must make multiple trips to the bathroom at night, you wind up with a human being who tends to get up on the wrong side of the bed every day.
And then there is the boredom factor. One of the most often unspoken realities, is that one by one, everyone that you ever knew dies, moves away (to include a 'retirement' "home"/moves in with one of their children/etc.,.
I tend to agree that the elderly, especially, are at risk of loneliness owing to have outlived many of their friends. I would also suggest that there will be a new demographic coming up with the increased secularisation of society. Those who grew up in a Church community tended to be active and have friends than those who had no such common interest group. Even the footy club is not as "inclusive" of the older patrons as they could be. The sad thing is, the elderly have so many rich life experiences that the young could well benefit from, but, owing to isolationism, are missing out. Can you imagine the Faceache generation in their dotage?
I hope my many relatives from my wife's side of the family will help sustain me in my old age, and also church members.