Service of Medical Impact When Loneliness is not Solitude

September 21st, 2017

Categories: Loneliness, Medical Care, Mental Health, Social Media, Social Skills


There are plenty of self-help books with titles like “Married…But Lonely.” And loneliness doesn’t just happen to the elderly, although seniors over 80 represent the largest percentage for understandable reasons: Lost hearing, sight, mobility, family and friends and many are isolated because they lack funds to socialize.

I didn’t realize the crucial impact of loneliness made clear in the lead to Emily Holland’s Wall Street Journal article: “Loneliness is hazardous to your health—and more psychologists and doctors are calling for a public-health campaign to fight it.”

In the article, “The Government’s Role in Combating Loneliness –Medical experts say social isolation needs to be seen as a public-health issue,” Holland quotes Brigham Young University professor Julianne Holt-Lundstad: “cumulative data over hundreds of studies with millions of participants provides robust evidence of the importance of social connections for physical health and risk for premature mortality.”


Studies have shown that “the risk is equal to or greater than major health problems such as obesity.” Dr. Holt-Lundstad presented analyses of data from multiple studies at this summer’s American Psychological Association convention that “found that having greater social connections is associated with a 50% reduced risk of premature death.”


According to Holland, an AARP study estimated 44 million adults 45 and up experience chronic loneliness. “In the survey, 35% of respondents said they were chronically lonely, up from 20% in a similar survey a decade ago.” Why? “An increase in single-person households, higher divorce rates and too much focus on social media over in-person communication,” may be some reasons.

Holland reported that loneliness doesn’t get the attention of smoking or obesity but that it is beginning to, noting the AARP public education initiative Connect2Affect. In addition, she mentioned a toll free number seniors can call to get rides via Uber and Lyft in some areas; a 24 hour, free Friendship Line–800-971-0016–sponsored by the Institute on Aging for those 60+ who feel lonely, depressed–even suicidal and programs at some senior living facilities that encourage socializing between generations.

Early detection and encouraging people to seek help are key to turning around the situation. Physicians must learn to question patients and patients must feel comfortable admitting their feelings of involuntary isolation and seclusion.

What is the difference between loneliness and solitude? Do you know people who are surrounded by humans and yet they feel lonely or others who prefer to be alone and say they are happiest that way? Have you heard of effective ways that infirm or financially strapped people of any age can remain involved?


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4 Responses to “Service of Medical Impact When Loneliness is not Solitude”

  1. HB Said:

    Your post brings to mind a conversation I had years ago with a fellow trustee at a committee meeting of the board of the secondary school on which we both then served. After a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent, he was retiring to live in one of those gated, soup to nuts, “retirement communities” in which it had become fashionable for well-meaning middle class Americans to house their elderly. I had visited relatives at several such places and had serious reservations about whether I would enjoy living in one. Here was a highly skilled man who had lived and worked doing an important, often exciting, job all over the world and had accomplished much. I delicately asked him about his decision to self-incarcerate in such a place. He told me that as a child he had been sent off to boarding school when he was just nine, and had gotten along well. Consequently, he had little doubt but what he would adjust easily adjust to his new surroundings.

    Unlike the correspondent, I grew up largely without peers around me. (I did not even go to school three out of the first nine grades.) Now I am old with little energy to care for myself far less to seek new friends. I am back where I started and without peers. Likewise, I’ll admit I dread attending social events because I feel compelled to make some effort to join in the “fun.” No doubt, Emily Holland’s experts would write me off as a maladjusted, anti-social nutcase. I probably am, but I’m happier to be without friends and to enjoy the company of those who are near and dear to me, as well as the occasional, if superficial, “hello” or “thank you” with those who help make my life easier to live.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    None of the results of these studies are one size fits all.

    You didn’t mention if your colleague had family to care for him or the funds to import help should he need it at home should he live alone. Many people have no choice, whether or not they were or are joiners–they must live in a facility.

    I remember a doctor who was in the hospital for his own treatment for the first time. He was recovering from a major operation and felt quite weak. When the cleaning man came in early in the morning to check the wastebasket and bathroom, if he didn’t say “hello,” the doctor felt crushed. He needed that little bit of company.

    I would also guess that you never enjoyed social events when 20, 50 or whenever. Energy is key. But a teenager, 20, 30, 40 of 90-something would not find much energy to do something h/she wasn’t in the mood for or didn’t enjoy.

    So you are the exception that proves the rule and are fortunate that you have just the right amount of company you require. May you have it always. On the other hand, taking food as an example, you can’t know if you still don’t like something if you don’t every once in a while give that particular food a try. You might be surprised to enjoy yourself in social gatherings in spite of yourself. I knew a guy who hated picnics and pub lunches–until he gave them a try.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    A major difference between loneliness and aloneness, is enjoyment of ones own company. While this is a huge oversimplification, it must do, since a serious discourse on the subject could go on for days.

    An inability to get along with oneself, may lead to all sorts of mental dysfunction, ranging from constant worry to suicide. An advanced degree in psychology is needed to go further.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good analysis but seclusion without a single soul to speak with for weeks for whatever reason could drive anyone to a bad place.

    I have friends who fight doing anything alone. There are activities I prefer to do alone such as visit a craft fair. I get impatient waiting for someone to decide if they want to buy this or that or to see how something is made. By then I might be at the lemonade stand and ready to leave!

    If nobody wants to go with me to the movies and there’s something I want to see, off I go! I prefer going with someone as I love to discuss the film afterwards but there’s always a friend who has seen it so I chat with them.

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