ARBOR OUTLOOK: The high cost of loneliness
“All the lonely people … where do they all come from? All the lonely people … where do they all belong?” — from “Eleanor Rigby” as performed by The Beatles
What is the leading killer of my Baby Boomer peers? Is it obesity? Heart disease? Cancer? All take a terrible toll on us and our families. Apparently many physicians now believe that loneliness contributes significantly to these and other illnesses and even to premature death.
It makes sense that Baby Boomers living alone should consider sharing housing that affords them human interaction on a daily basis, but still provides a sanctuary of silence should they desire to retreat to their own space. The television show “The Golden Girls” was far ahead of its time, winning several awards as a situational comedy that depicted the lives of four women living under one roof in Miami.
Social isolation, though, is now an epidemic extending to all generations, genders and ages. In this internet age, we enjoy instant access to current information, but are suffering a decline in our connections to each other. Recently I observed six women my age in a restaurant dining without any conversation, each absorbed in her own phone. This phenomenon is intergenerational.
The medical cost of loneliness is staggering. Obviously, the Golden Girls shared expenses and saved money. But in real life, how many Baby Boomers ignore warning signs and fail to seek medical attention about serious health issues because there’s no family or friendly peer pressure nearby encouraging them to do so? Men need social contact, too. Ask any physician if they have ever witnessed the rapid decline of cognitive skills among older patients after a long-time spouse passes.
A recent New York Times article by Katie Hafner entitled “Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness” provides clinical definitions and evidence. “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.”
“The profound effects of loneliness on health and independence are a critical public health problem,” said Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco … "In…the United States, roughly one in three people older than 65 live alone … (and) half of those older than 85 live alone.”
Sharing expenses might be a viable economic solution for many Baby Boomers. Sharing our lives might be even more important, whether it’s through volunteering, dining out, seeing family more often or just communing with neighbors and friends.
It not only makes financial sense, but emotional sense for folks living alone to bond together. Here’s hoping that any social stigma associated with living with others as we age will be broken, and that the change benefits us all, medically and emotionally.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, author of the syndicated economic column "Arbor Outlook," is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.