The loneliness epidemic: 3 questions to ask yourself

By: Gloria Top, RN, CBCN, CN-BN .

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Recently I went to a ministry conference on the loneliness epidemic. One of first questions I wondered when I saw this advertised was how can there be a loneliness epidemic in this day and age. This age when transportation is so available to all, technology is at our fingertips and every luxury one can think of is available.

Dr. Carla Perissinotto from University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine Division of Geriatrics presented on some of the myths:

Myth #1:  If you have many friends, you should not be lonely.

Myth #2:  If you are married, you will never be lonely.

Myth #3:  Loneliness will get better if I join a group.

The demographics of the people who responded to her research included around 62 percent married couples and 26 percent who were living alone.

One of her findings was that women were more likely to be lonely than men.

Her research proves that assessing for loneliness is valuable to the overall wellbeing of patients as loneliness is very common and can increase:

  • The rate of death
  • Loss of independence with activities of daily living
  • The stress response
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of motor function
  • The onset of dementia and frailty

Dr. Perissinotto continued to say loneliness is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is the new smoking!

Loneliness can be assessed with three questions, with answers ranking “hardly ever,” “some of the time” or “often:”

  • Do you feel left out?
  • Do you feel isolated?
  • Do you lack companionship?

The takeaway for me was that people need community.  We were not created to be alone. We yearn to have purpose larger than ourselves. Research has shown something as simple as volunteering two hours per week, continuously, can be enough to bring meaning outside of ourselves. We all need to feel valued and have a sense of purpose, which leads to a sense of belonging.

Read more about UCSF research.

Posted In Faces of Sanford Health