It’s a public health concern we don’t often discuss, but loneliness touches countless Americans, with nearly one in three older adults affected. While everyone and every personality type is susceptible to loneliness, older adults tend to have more risk factors. Dr. Kerstin Emerson is a professor of gerontology at the University of Georgia.
“Loneliness has a stigma attached to it, we don’t like to admit that we’re lonely, even the way we as researchers find out if someone’s lonely, we never use the word lonely because people don’t to admit to it.”
Emerson says we should look for people whose lives have changed.
"If they have an illness and they’re no longer getting out, they may be at a higher risk for loneliness,” according to Emerson. “Or if they’ve just moved to your neighborhood and maybe they don’t know anyone yet and they haven’t joined any social groups, they night be more lonely, or if you have a friend or a neighbor who used to be really active and engaged but they had to stop driving for any number of reasons, that’s actually a pretty big risk factor as well.”
Dr. Emerson says friends, relatives and neighbors can help since it’s not easy to diagnosis the problem.
“It’s hard to know if someone’s lonely just by looking at them, we don’t have a good blood test so doctors can’t just scan you to see if you’re lonely. You really have to ask someone if they’re needs are being met. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking someone how they’re doing and if they’d like to have more social interaction.”
She says the holiday can temporarily affect loneliness, but chronic loneliness is the major concern. Emerson says those experiencing loneliness should reach out to others, discuss it and be aware others suffer as well.