By David Frank, AARP, September 26, 2018
One in 3 U.S. adults 45 and older are lonely, according to a new survey by AARP Foundation.
A study by AARP Research in 2010 found the same percentage of adult loneliness, but population growth since then means that about 5 million more adults in this age group are lonely.
“The increase in the number of lonely adults 45 and over is significant,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation. “Loneliness, especially as it relates to social isolation factors, has real consequences for people’s health. Studies show that isolation and loneliness are as bad for health as obesity or smoking. This survey’s results send a clear signal that we need to direct more attention and resources to this complex and growing public health issue.”
AARP Foundation said the survey could help build a greater understanding of how loneliness is related to social isolation. While social isolation is objective, measured by factors such as how large an individual’s social network is, loneliness is defined more subjectively in terms of whether people feel they lack connections and companionship.
Unlike the 2010 study, the new survey looked at the relationship between loneliness of midlife and older adults and their connections to neighbors. Sixty-one percent of those who have never spoken to a neighbor are lonely, compared with 33 percent of those who have spoken to a neighbor.
“Connecting with our neighbors is about more than goodwill; it’s also about good health,” Ryerson said. “An act as simple as saying hello and striking up a conversation with your neighbor can make a huge difference in helping someone who is lonely or isolated feel more connected to their community.”
The study examined the extent of loneliness across demographic groups. It found that unpaid caregivers, low-income adults and those identifying as LGBTQ are at greater risk of being chronically lonely.
The top predictors of loneliness, the survey found, are the size of a person’s social network and being physically isolated. It also cited depression, living in an urban area, anxiety, overall health and age as contributing factors.
The survey also looked at how people deal with loneliness. It found that those who are chronically lonely are more likely to cope through isolated activities, such as watching television or surfing the internet. By contrast, people who are not chronically lonely are more likely to address feelings of loneliness by talking to a friend or getting together with family.
Despite the harmful health impact of loneliness, the survey showed that less than 20 percent of people have talked to their health care provider about feeling lonely.
The full report is available at aarp.org/connections2018