In the movie Home Alone, Marley is a rough-bearded, scary old man who lives alone across the street from Kevin’s house.  He very seldom comes outside.  Unkind rumors spread about Marley.  Kevin finally meets Mr. Marley on Christmas Eve at Church and discovers Marley was a kind man, who lived alone, his wife had passed away and his son had disowned him because of a family quarrel.  He loved his son and granddaughter but was afraid to confront him for fear of rejection.  Through Kevin’s intervention, he saw the reunion of Marley’s family on Christmas Day.  This was a happy ending, however….

Loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks affecting a significant number of people in the United States and putting them at risk for dementia and other serious medical conditions.  Many aging adults, face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss.

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) points out that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated.  Many adults aged 50 and older are socially isolated or lonely in ways that put their health at risk.

The effects of Loneliness can be deadly, and this is no joke!

In a recent, Nov 23, 2023 Wall Street Journal article” Loneliness Isn’t Just Bad for Your Health—It’s Deadly.”  “Americans are now spending more time alone and less time socializing in person, compared with two decades ago, a trend that started even before the pandemic., “says, JOHN TAGGART of WSJ.

Recent studies found that:

  • Social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
  • Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia.
  • 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
  • Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
  • Loneliness with heart patients was associated with nearly 4 times increased risk of death.

How can we help prevent Social Isolation and Loneliness?

People generally are social by nature, and high-quality social relationships can help them live longer, healthier lives. Nearly all adults aged 50 or older interact with the healthcare system in some way. For those without social connections, a doctor’s appointment or visit from a home health nurse may be one of the few face-to-face encounters they have. This represents a unique opportunity for clinicians to identify people at risk for loneliness or social isolation.

Our family is social by nature, yet my daughter-in-law Jessica, has a special chemistry with her clients at her work and has worked closely with seniors and severely handicapped people since she was a young girl.   She is an absolute angel, dedicated to her senior clients in the activities and programs she has created for them here in Amarillo, TX.

She currently has seen and helped numerous patients who would never come out of their room, some confined to a wheelchair to become vibrant active seniors in their 70s,80s, and 90s, excited for a new day of learning and activity.  She has helped me see the importance of individual and family interaction and activities in the lives of our seniors.

The National Institute on Aging suggests the following:

No matter how frightening the consequences may seem, we can practice avoiding situations that might lead people to experience social isolation.

  • Make time to practice self-care and do things that give you a sense of purpose outside of work.
  • Become involved with social activities, like a book club, family history groups, or sports team.
  • Plan when you’re going to spend time with friends and family members so that you have something to look forward to.
  • Adopt a pet to keep you company.
  • Volunteer your time helping others.
  • Make the most out of phone calls and video chat platforms like FaceTime.
  • Join a support group or seek professional help from a therapist

Whether you are 45 or 95 years of age, there are plenty of resources, activities, and programs available to fight back and help prevent, Loneliness and Social Isolation among those we love and care for.       Local resources are:

  • Panhandle Agency on Aging 806-331-2227, *Wesley Senior Community Center 806-372-7960

*National Institute on Aging  (nia.nih.gov)

More on this topic in March 2024.  Until then, Build something special …… Create a smile!

Joel Carver,  Lighthouse Funeral and Cremation Service
Amarillo, TX