Consider: One in five Americans always or often feel lonely or socially isolated, including many whose health, relationships and work suffers as a result, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, in partnership with The Economist.
For many, about six in 10, there is a specific cause of their loneliness: they often report being dissatisfied with their personal financial situation. In other cases, they've experienced a negative life event: a negative change in financial status, a serious illness or injury, and/or the death of a loved one.
Those who are lonely also often lack meaningful social connections with others, according to Donato Tramuto, the CEO of Tivity Health and author of Life's Bulldozer Moments.
In an interview with TheStreet at the MIT Age Lab Tivity Health Fitness, Food, and Friends symposium, Tramuto noted that the nearest relative to an older adult - and especially those who live in rural America - might live 270 miles away. "You have a significant number of children that have moved away, that nuclear family is no longer nearby," said Tramuto.
That's one aspect of loneliness, social isolation. But the other aspect, he said, is you could have friends and you still feel alone. "And that's the part that hurts me is that you could work all your life to get to a retirement age and spend those last years totally alone," said Tramuto.
A New Chronic Condition
What's more, he notes loneliness can be unhealthy. If you're 65 and older and you have classified yourself as lonely your number of healthy days will be about five per month.
So, what can be done to help correct what Tramuto calls the new chronic condition of the 21st century?
Well, telling and listening to each other's personal stories is one remedy.
Another remedy is making sure that you have ambassadors in your community - such as those affiliated with Tivity Health's Silver Sneakers -- charged with getting people out of their homes.
And, Tramuto said, the most important thing that we can all do is to take the time to first recognize that social isolation and loneliness is an issue. "I think for the longest time we just ignored it," he said. "We have to make it safe for others to acknowledge that they can come forward and admit that they're lonely. And then there's an opportunity to connect them to so many different social programs... we shouldn't make this a stigma or make it embarrassing to admit that you've had bouts of loneliness."
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