Loneliness can cause emotional suffering to people of all ages. But a new study by UCSF researchers, which focused on the question of loneliness and its effects, suggests it is especially harmful to the elderly and raises the risk of health problems and even premature death. We’ll talk with the lead researcher about the findings.

Loneliness in Later Years 20 June,2012forum

Carla Perissinotto, assistant clinical professor, Division of Geriatrics at UCSF and the study's lead author
Karyn Skultety, director of clinical and community services for the Institute on Aging

  • Rhet

    Is it just the old who are lonely? I’ve always heard young people complaining they feel lonely, even when surrounded by peers. They can harbor deep grudges against types of people whom they assume receive more attention. If all age groups are lonely, could the problem actually be that our culture suffers from a defect, like the obsession with making and spending money? Some immigrants refer this to as being “plastico”. To me it’s just an avoidance of life: The deliberate non-examination of life rendering most interactions as meaningless.

    • Unme

      What you allude to is possibly the most insidiously toxic and, as such, destructive element/force inherent in the evolution of American ‘culture-less culture’ …and… which very, very few have the insight, willingness or personal fortitude to address.

      The fundamental of American ‘culture’ as perceived success, defined in terms of successful buying/selling/consuming/entertaining/being entertained. When there is no perceived success in these endeavors, there results alienation, isolation…and a gnawing emptiness of the heart…(i.e., loneliness…and an accompanying hopelessness that cannot be overlooked if loneliness itself is to be understood for what it actually is). And… failing any interest in these endeavors initially, the same isolation, alienation and subsequent loneliness/hopelessness tends to defeat the individual (before they can even start!).

      Our, hi-tech evolution has secured and ensured a politically ignorant, narrow-minded non-productive, disconnected/isolated/alienated television/DVD/entertainment value-based society that is un-natural/un-real and without genuine meaning and authenticity.

      Old age?! One doesn’t need a PHD to feel any of this. It’s no wonder our affluent culture has become so complacently confused, lonely and hopeless.

      • Rhet

         One antidote is to create things, such as art, which entails a search for personal meaning and narrative that, once sustained, pushes the buying/selling/etc back down to the pedestrian level where it belongs. But most people today don’t create. They live today in a curious situation, where most everything we own is not made by our hands and minds, but rather in faraway places, and every object is rendered meaningless. Same with TV & movies, which are like sugary cereal for the mind.

        • Ginger

          Never too late to discover creativity. 

  • Bob

    Have the guests seen differences between loneliness in men and women?  It is said men left alone die quickly but not women.

  • Paula

    I was really impressed with the aged community in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia I’ve visited.  They seem to stay healthier in their later years, and this includes mental and emotional health, as well as physically.  My husband’s grandparents, well in their 80s at least, still do a bit of work, have large social lives, commute on the bus, and go for regular walks.  I loved looking down from my window in the morning from Grandma’s 21st floor tower in Hong Kong, and seeing multiple groups of elderly people practicing Tai Chi.  I wonder if this cultural difference could be used as a model of elderly health in our country?  I hope it will be in my life 40 years from now.

  • victoria s.

    This breaks my heart… any suggestions on how to go about helping…

  • Meri

    Volunteer! I’m a young thirty-something and I volunteer with several retirees in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. I love and look forward to being around them every week. It’s refreshing to not be around people my own age all the time. When I get to talking to them, I have a better perspective on my life and it’s current ups and downs. 

    • LKW

       Yay! I wish there were more of you!

  • Lcretan

    Please post a link to the study

    • ForumProducer

      A link to the study is now listed above as a “more info” link.

  • Lcretan

    One report indicated that many of the people in the study were still married, i.e., not physically alone. Any thoughts on whether there is any practical benefit/ difference for those who are either divorced or widowed, who,in spite of the challenge of those situations, at least have the clarity of moving on, and mo flexibility to establish new relationships.

  • ForumProducer

    The number for the Institute on Aging mentioned during the show is 415 750-4111. The website is http://www.ioaging.org/.

  • Yirskasp

    What are the resources home health nurses can recommend to their patient and caregivers once they screen the patient with the loneliness tool. As a home health nurse, I found important to have community places where we can reffer our patients to. In many instances the resources in place are not sufficient. Thank you

    Nurse bebe

  • Andrea

    We are part of an innovative grass-roots national movement of “Villages” – creating community support to help seniors live longer, independent, healthier lives in their own homes.  Volunteers from the same neighborhoods as the seniors provide rides (to the doctor, grocery shopping, etc) and help with simple household tasks that members of the Village may need (switching a lightbulb, help with a computer, fixing a screen door,  raking the lawn, etc).  Check out the Village Movement, http://www.vtvnetwork.org, and in Berkeley: http://www.ashbyvillage.org

  • ForumProducer

    To learn more about the Little Brothers organization visit http://www.littlebrothers.org.

  • Lloydl

    Where did Americans get the idea that generations of families should
    live apart? The American obsession with rugged individualism and privacy
    has a very
    dark side – the loneliness you’re talking about on the program this

    Many or most cultures have 2 or 3 (or even 4)
    generations living together or at least in very close proximity. This
    ensures daily interaction, thereby eliminating loneliness, provides
    childcare and even reduces environmental impact. This is not to discount
    the difficulty of living close to one another, especially if there are
    challenging (sometimes even toxic) personalities among members of the

    I think the hidden silver lining of the current lack of jobs for
    college graduates is that kids are starting their post-college adult
    lives back in their parents’ homes. Maybe before they move out, in at
    least some cases, all will come to realize the benefits of living

    • Lloydl

      One other thought: offer to take good care of your parents, even asking them to live with you, and perhaps YOUR children will do the same for you.

  • Joankboyd

    I am 74 years old with a rich background in maternal and child health and post graduate degrees in nursing and public health.  My efforts to volunteer in homeless adolescent programs and other child care organizations have not been successful.  Sharing wisdom and experience is not easy; and some younger people, professional or otherwise, do not necessarily want advice or consultation.  They seem to need to make their own mistakes

  • LKW

    I help a neighbor lady (87 years old) once a week–not “work for” but
    help.  She is not a sweet, little old lady, and she has alienated most
    of her neighbors because she can be very irritating!

     this topic  is very interesting to me and though I have a lot to say about this, however..

    Why can’t those high school students who go in groups to volunteer to
    build latrines in Latin America also aim their volunteer time to
    helping elderly who are home bound and need someone to help them buy
    food?! ‘Little brothers”– how about a monthly visit to clear out gutters, take elderly to store, etc.

    Hearing: When people are this old, they may not be able to use the
    telephone (definitely not the Internet) to access resources and figure
    them out, hearing aid or not.  In addition, fewer govt. resources mean
    those resources are much fewer–in our suburban county, anyway. Sounds
    like you have more programs in SF.

  • Cara Pardo

    As someone who works for a Bay Area non-profit outreach program for seniors, one of the biggest problems we face is finding ways to reach isolated people, many of whom are homebound are not Internet- savvy. Any tips for how to reach the people who would most benefit from such programs?

    • Hi, Cara. I work with the nonprofit Day Break Cares (a program of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County), and we provide home care, adult day care, and caregiver support services for seniors and family caregivers in the community. We encounter this same challenge as well. I wish I had a quick and easy solution to it, but I don’t. What has worked pretty well for us over the past 15 years is reaching out to faith-based communities and churches. Many isolated seniors still find a way to make it to church every weekend, or if they become completely homebound, there are often other members of their church who will check in on them periodically or provide ministry to them at home. Educating the faith-based communities about the great senior resources and services out there can help churches help their most frail and elderly members. Another idea I had (not implemented yet!) was teaming up with local Meals on Wheels program(s) to develop some type of regular newsletter or flyer that can be distributed to the homebound seniors along with their meals and that highlights different programs and services in the community. Best of luck to you and your organization! — Amy

    • Claudia Reed

      Since nearly all seniors, homebound or otherwise, receive Social Security and see doctors, you might contact the local Social Security offices, medical clinics, and doctors’ offices asking if they would pass your literature on to those they serve.

  • ForumProducer

    More resources that were mentioned: Alameda County Counseling Services for Older Adults at 800-309-2132 and http://www.crisissupport.org/senior_counseling.

  • ForumProducer

    Another resources mentioned: RSVP/Senior Corps http://www.seniorcorps.gov/about/programs/rsvp.asp 

  • lgb

    i wonder if the guest has any advice for folks who feel lonely within their extended family structure? I’m odd man out with my in-laws, we are not alike in our social habits or cultural upbringing. I love my partner yet feel frustrated at the ongoing estrangement and wish it were different. it goes beyond character differences, and I’m at a loss for how to bridge the abyss, other than to be surface-friendly in return.

    • Safta

      One thing you may share is love of children. If you have some, bring them around. If your in-laws have little ones, offer to babysit or take them to the zoo. Their parents may not like your “cultural upbringing” but my guess is they’ll be grateful for the free child care.

  • Mark

    What was the hearing device one of the guests recommended? ($30 on Amazon)

    • Tina

       The device talked about is called a Pocket Talker. You can get through Amazon, Radio Shack, etc.

      • Cynthia

        The “Williams Pocket Talker” is around $130 on Amazon, and not carried by Radio Shack. Were they referring to something else?

  • ForumProducer

    Resources recommended by our guests: 

    *UCSF’s Mt. Zion Housecalls Program               http://geriatrics.medicine.ucsf.edu/care/housecalls.html *Lifelong Medical Care    http://lifelongmedical.org/patient-guide/locations/over-60-health-center

    *Institute on the Aging
        http://www.ioaging.org/, (415) 750 4111

  • ForumProducer

    Resources recommended by our guests: 
    Institute on the Aging: (415) 750 4111, www.ioaging.org
    UCSF’s Mt. Zion Housecalls Programs: http://bit.ly/MxHpRi
    LifeLong Medical Care: http://bit.ly/KN6ePF

    • I’d very much appreciate it if you could add the contact information for Ashby Village: http://www.ashbyvillage.org, 510-204-9200, info@ashbyvillage:disqus
      Andy Gaines

  • Guest

    I don’t understand this because I am old and live by myself in the middle of a National Forest. The only time I see anyone is when I drive to town about 10 miles away, which I do once a week. Are you sure that this isn’t depression or some other mental illness? Maybe it’s a decline of our society?

    Join a clean up crew or a gardening society. This is one’s personal responsibility to remain active but then I don’t have a television connected to a signal and I haven’t rented anything to watch on the DVR in years. It’s a waste of time.

    Walking is as good an activity as anything else. Watch the birds, which I do with the many hummingbird feeders that require daily attention. The main thing is to get off your duffs and go outside. If you can’t because you are ill or damaged, then I strongly suggest the Internet where you can watch the Eaglets about to fledge or the hummingbird nests or many other creatures explore the Earth on Ustream, for example. The bottom line is it’s your responsibility to plan for old age. 

    • Some seniors prefer to age at home, some in community (and not an assisted living or nursing home “community”). But it is difficult for seniors, groups of friends who want to,  to house together because of city zoning and rental laws. I urge people in government to be thinking about how this before the deluge of baby boom seniors.

    • Ginger

      OH If only we were all as connected as you are/ I mean connected first of all to yourself!!!! You are to be admired and learned from.  Thank you.

  • Sarahjay_7

    This was a wonderful segment and the guests were so knowledgeable.  It would be great to have an ongoing series or recurring segment on elder issues.  As the guests wisely pointed out, we all hope to be affected by these issues at some point.

  • Guest

    Great topic and great discussion.  I live in a senior community of individual homes and a lot of us are able to have a dog or cat or both.  These companions go a long way to relieve loneliness and it is so unfortunate that many living situations do not allow any pets……….sad.  Also, this “Pocket Talker” that was mentioned for around $30 does not exist, they are all $120 and up.  The only one for around $30 was called a “Bionicear”, no choices in that price category.

  • Bonnasue

    Okay, I go to Amazon.com to look for Pocket Talker and look at all of these?!
    Which one was being specifically referred to today on the show?!


  • Joanne Kini

    This was an outstanding program.   My husband receives regularly home visits from the Home Calls program at UCSF.  Because of that service, he has managed to stay out of the hospital since July, 2011.  The response to the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the patients in that program is remarkable.  I wish every community could offer a Home Care program to bed bound patients.  The issue of loneliness was well addressed and our family does not have that problem as we have the good fortune to be surrounded by a loving daughter son-in-law and grandchildren who live upstairs and interact with us on a daily basis.
             Joanne Kini

  • Dug

    That was a very interesting conversation. I look forward to reading the article and applying this to my work here in MN.

  • Susan

    Hi, Michael mentions that the resources will be posted on the website, but I don’t see them. Does anyone know where they are?

  • Leif Christiansen

    I was listening to Forum the other morning—a segment that was geared toward older adults and independent living.  I forgot the two young ladies names that were involved in a study pertaining to this subject—but one of their responses to a question caught me off guard, and was quite inaccurate.
    A caller—or someone emailing a response to the discussion stated that programs like Meals On Wheels provide home-bound older adults meals and a social connection.  Your guest replied: “Meals On Wheels simply delivers meals, and doesn’t provide a social connection.” 
    I have to really disagree with that statement.  I work for a charity, The Health Trust, that serves working class residents of Santa Clara County in a number of capacities— from early childhood education services to resources for older adults in our community.  We operate our own Meals On Wheels program—serving about 600 home-bound clients.  We have roughly 50 volunteer drivers that deliver meals 5 days a week (and provide frozen meals for the weekend)—and we also facilitate what we call Wellness Checks.  Wellness Checks are crucial—as our drivers spend time interacting with our clients, and at the same time, ensuring that nothing is out of the ordinary health-wise for our clients (if there is, they notify our driver hot-line, or if need be, call emergency services) .  We truly believe that this is just as important as the meal itself—the fact that our drivers spend time with our clients who some-times can be isolated from society.  Our drivers are the best—and create wonderful relationships with our clients…many of our drivers are retired professionals, and value their bond with the individuals they deliver meals to.  I felt a little offended by the statement that was made—and thought that it was unfair of that person to paint a false picture of Meals On Wheels.  Many of the programs operate with their own guide-lines—and all Meals On Wheels programs aren’t the same.
    Thank you for your time.  I love listening to forum!

    • Joanne Kini

      It was wonderful to hear of your organization.  I didn’t hear that part of the segment but it is such an important aspect of interacting with the elderly.  I like the way you described it as important as the food itself.
      I hope you will publicize this good work in the local paper.  I am planning to send an e mail to the author of the study and will mention your comment.    I am simply a caregiver to my husband with lots of help.  I don’t need those services but am so happy to know those who are alone have them.  Joanne Kini

  • Woodrugl

    I listened to this broadcast for some of the time the other day, and was shocked that one of your presentors miss respresented the use of hearing aids in telling your listeners that the current technology will not adjust to ambient noise.  I have a very good friend who is a member of the Audiologist certification board for the State of California, and the current technology is much more flexible for todays hearing impaired.  My mother just had her hearing aids replaced a few weeks ago and the middle priced units will adjust to ambient noise, they will adjust side to side so if a conversation is happening in a car for instance the ear that is on the window side of the car where road noise is will turn down.  Just an update

  • Thanks so much for this Forum segment on elders’ loneliness and its effect on their health. You are bringing much needed attention to a critical problem facing very vulnerable, and often forgotten, members of our community.

    In California, lonely seniors can participate from home in a free telephone community, Senior Center Without Walls, which provides numerous activities, discussions, friendly conversation, and support groups on conference calls. Please check out our website: seniorcenterwithoutwalls.org or call us toll-free at 1-877-797-7299 for information. Our non-sectarian, non-profit program is sponsored by Episcopal Senior Communities.

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