Loneliness is Killing the Elderly; Here's How You Can Help

December 12, 2017Dec 12, 2017

"For a host of reasons, no one is addressing ... daily needs," writes the New York Times. “The refrigerator is empty, but there’s no one to call. People suffer despair, humiliation.”

This quote was referring to the nation's elderly, the majority of whom live by themselves, with nobody to call during times of desperation.

Researchers at the University of San Fransisco found that loneliness plays a big role in psychological and physical decline associated with old age. The study shows that adults with an average age above 71 will have higher mortality rates if they are lonely, as compared to those who aren't lonely, who have family and friends that make purposeful efforts to be with them. Nearly 23% of the lonely participants passed within six years of the study. In contrast, only 14% of those who reported adequate companionship passed away. 

Social isolation can have a profound impact on an elderly person, over half of whom live totally alone. In fact, social isolation directly correlates with increased depression, higher blood pressure, nursing home admissions, and dementia. 

As people grow older, it is often natural for social circles to shrink. Friendships and family bonds are ended as many loved ones grow will, move away, or pass away. As a result, many of America's elderly find themselves living in a social isolation so severe that it is nothing short of suffocating and filled with despair.  

As a result, many elderly people, including Sylvia Frank, who has lived in an independent living residence in Lower Manhattan in 2014, feel they haven't spoken to their loved ones in months. Those who suffer from dementia are especially prone to this. Even though they have spoken on the phone with somebody they knew only a few days ago, they can sometimes feel — if they don't remember the conversation — that they haven't spoken to a particular loved one for ages.

Earlier this year, it was reported that the majority of those who died in the California fires were elderly. The reason was that nobody called to check on them, to see if they were aware of the fires, or to see if they needed help leaving their homes.

According to the New York Times, Sylvia Frank's life was changed when the colleague of her son, Judy Sanderoff, moved into the same facility. The two quickly sought each other out and became great friends. Mrs. Frank, 91, and Ms. Sanderoff, 96, now eat breakfast together daily. They also have dinner together and spend time together every day as friends. 

"Together, they have signed up for bus trips to the Museum of Arts and Design, to historic sites in Harlem, to a Pennsylvania casino. With Ms. Frank speaking into her friend’s good ear, they talk about news, politics and their families," writes the New York Times.

Although older people mourn losses, they are grateful for the capacity to find warmth, shared values, and common interests from new friendships they make later in life. And like all of us, they are often happy to become friends with people who used to be total strangers.

There are many opportunities for us to care for the elderly. Many of us can walk a few doors down the street to help an elderly neighbor mow the lawn, visit a nearby nursing home and build relationships, or even make a simple phone call to check on seniors who you know live by themselves. 

In recent news, evangelical leaders are speaking out about Judge Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate race.

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