One such premise recently came to my attention via a University of California-San Francisco study for which researchers followed 1604 adults for six years. In the process, the researchers discovered that – brace yourself! – lonely old folks tend not to live as long as those who are not lonely.
Published online in 2012 but only recently highlighted by major outlets such as Good Housekeeping, the study reveals that the lonely elderly are not only more likely to die, but are also more likely to suffer functional decline – for instance, in mobility.
The difference in death rates among these populations was not insignificant: 23% of the “lonely” group members died over the course of the study, while only 14% of the “not lonely” did so.
As Good Housekeeping’s reporter noted, “Inviting Grandma over for dinner may actually extend her life – and increase its quality.”
Perhaps the study also suggests that those with both compassion and free time should do whatever they can to combat this problem – one of this blog’s primary themes, in fact. As it pointed out recently, “We don't have to travel farther than the nearest nursing home to help alleviate this loneliness for at least a few.”
Just as important, we may need to adjust our thinking on the subject of living arrangements for the elderly in today’s oh-so-sophisticated, youth-worshipping culture.
Good Housekeeping’s story touched on what I believe to be a profound insight in this regard: “Beyond inviting our older relatives and friends into our homes, it's important to encourage elderly relationships — which is why, despite popular belief, older folks tend to thrive in independent or assisted living environments.”
To independent and assisted-living environments, I would add “great nursing homes.” As Golden Years proposed just last week, they can be a far better solution for many than living with children and grandchildren who are too busy to care.