Loneliness Can Affect Anyone

One of my favorite quotes is by Mother Teresa. It says, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

We never know what someone is going through. It can become easy for someone to be lonely even when they are surrounded by many. A smile to someone does not cost us anything but it can be huge benefits for the one you are smiling at. Kindness and compassion is needed everywhere, no matter where we are.

Not only the older adults are affected by loneliness, according to a new study.  There are as many as 76% of 340 subjects in the study that seemed to have moderate to severe loneliness.  Dilip Jeste, MD, a distinguished professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California in San Diego was the senior author of the study in which the participants were ages 27 to 101.   He also found predictable increases in loneliness at certain age ranges.  They spiked in the late 20s, mid-50s and late 80s.  Wisdom is something the scientists can measure and was a strong buffer against loneliness.

A study by health insurer Cigna found that nearly half of 20,000 people surveyed online reported feeling alone, isolated or left out at least some of the time.  Experts said that loneliness rivals obesity and smoking 15 cigarettes a day in terms of health risk.  There are different perceptions of loneliness, which is not the same as being alone.  This is a subjective feeling.  Sometimes only one friend is enough to avoid feeling loneliness where for some it might take many.

Participants accepted the scales to assess loneliness and answered how often they felt left out or “in tune” with others.  A comprehensive scale was used with those reporting moderate or severe loneliness that reached 76%.  Their physical and mental health was also assessed as well as their degree of wisdom using another standard scale developed by the UC San Diego researchers.  David Reuben, MD, director of geriatrics at UCLA Health was surprised by the 76% finding.  Severe loneliness was reported by 22% of the respondents.

Some people are happy being alone, so loneliness isn’t just about being by yourself.  Those tending to be happier, healthier and more productive is what matters by having strong connections.  Those without those connections may feel isolated, misunderstood and depressed.  Loneliness and depression can make it hard for your body to fight off sickness as it triggers some of the hormones the body makes when a person is under stress.  That can dim how well the immune system works.

In their late 20’s people are trying to find their way; in the 50s it involves the mid-life crises and in the late 80s people are losing friends.  Wisdom accrues over time and we learn from that.  Forming relationships with people at all age levels would enhance our lives.

The advice to people about loneliness is to be honest and authentic with people, and share your stories.

Dr Fredda Branyon