The title of this blog is taken from John Prine’s song “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” which seems apropos for an article on the profound impact of loneliness on the health of aging parents. Here’s the first punch line:
“Assessment of loneliness is not routine in clinical practice and it may be viewed as beyond the scope of medical practice,” the authors conclude. “However, loneliness may be as an important of a predictor of adverse health outcomes as many traditional medical risk factors.”
Beyond the scope of medical practice? Really? Cure when possible, comfort always but too busy to assess loneliness in a high risk population? Here’s the risk:
“After controlling for confounding factors (including depression), loneliness was associated with a nearly 60-percent increased risk of functional decline (loss of ability to perform everyday tasks such as bathing and feeding themselves, climbing stairs, walking, lifting things with their arms, and so forth) during the six-year follow-up period than the folks who were not deemed lonely. Worse yet, loneliness was linked to a 45 percent higher risk of dying during the follow-up period.”
Worth an assessment in my book, but there’s more. Here is the second punch line:
“Those findings deliver an extra jolt when you consider that just 18 percent of the people surveyed lived alone – and nearly 75 percent were married.”
Loneliness plagues the married and unmarried alike, which harkens back to the pressing need to maintain “nourishing” social connections in the final phase of life. It also intensifies the dilemma of where to live when we get old. Aging in place may maximize personal control but may inadvertently worsen loneliness. Senior housing may do the opposite.
Bottom Line: Wherever our aging parents live, they are at risk for loneliness. The good news is that this is a risk we can mitigate with creativity, determination, and compassion.