December 01, 2019

Loneliness

A serious health concern

It may seem easy to make connections in today's world. You can send a childhood friend an email, or connect on Facebook. Or you can make some new friends in an online chat room of people throughout the world who share a hobby or interest with you.

Despite this, loneliness is still a serious problem. Loneliness means feeling an inadequate level of meaningful connection with other people. Even if you're around others regularly, you can still feel alone.

Loneliness can be a serious health concern, but the problem often doesn't get the medical attention it deserves. We recognize the health value in taking care of other basic needs — such as eating, drinking and sleeping — but we also need to understand that connecting with other people carries similar importance. Loneliness can be as damaging to longterm survival as daily smoking or obesity, and is associated with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

An epidemic

A 2018 survey by AARP found that 35% of Americans age 45 and older are lonely. That's similar to what it was in 2010, the last time AARP did its loneliness survey. However, one element changed dramatically during that time period — use of social media. In 2010, just 13% of participants used Facebook, Twitter or other platforms daily. In 2018, that number had ballooned to 42%. Still, the loneliness number didn't budge.

Despite advances in communication technology — including texting — these conveniences may take the place of face-to-face interactions and may inhibit the development of truly...