Published online in 2012 but only highlighted years later by major outlets such as Good Housekeeping, the study revealed 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. After all, we don't have to travel farther than the nearest nursing home to help alleviate 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-worshiping 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 several years back, they can be a far better solution for many than living with children and grandchildren who are too busy to care.
But as long as this current COVID-19 crisis continues, all these avenues of social interaction are cut off for many of our old folk. Until it's behind us, please do what you can to stay in touch with your elderly friends and relatives. Call, write, email, Skype or FaceTime, even stop by and visit through a window, if that's at all practical; some families are doing just that at nursing homes around here, using cell phones to talk with their loved ones through the windows. There's no hugging, of course, but it sure beats the prolonged loneliness that this health crisis is causing for far too many people.