Is loneliness the ‘silver tsunami’?

Studies find loneliness as dangerous as obesity and smoking.

Is loneliness the ‘silver tsunami’?

If you regularly feel lonely, you’re not alone. And the likelihood is that if you are concerned about loneliness, your health will be suffering.

Health insurance company Cigna and market research firm Ipsos recently surveyed more than 20,000 Americans aged 18 years and older and found:

  • 46 per cent felt alone either sometimes or always
  • 47 per cent felt left out
  • 27 per cent felt that their relationships were not meaningful
  • 43 per cent felt isolated
  • 20 per cent rarely or never felt close to people
  • 18 per cent didn't feel like there are people they can talk to
  • only 53 per cent have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as an extended conversation with a friend or quality time with family, on a daily basis.

Health studies say that loneliness can disrupt sleep, increase stress, weaken the immune system, accelerate cognitive decline and frailty and is linked to heart disease and depression. They argue that loneliness has such a significant effect on mortality rates that it could be considered a public health threat more harmful than obesity and akin to smoking.

US loneliness researcher John Cacioppo says loneliness among retirees is as high as 45 per cent and refers to the issue as the ‘silver tsunami’.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology in Utah, has analysed recent worldwide studies and says: “Many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic’. The challenge is, what can be done about it."

We live in communities where it has never been easier to stay connected. The question, ‘Are the connections meaningful?’ is answered in this latest study.

Professor Stephen Houghton, director of the Child and Adolescent Related Disorders at the University of WA, says: “Loneliness is a major social, educational, economic and health issue that will reach epidemic proportions by 2030. At the moment there are no interventions. Where are they? I can't find any."

Professor Houghton says that while many countries have acknowledged the destructive power of loneliness, it is yet to be formally recognised as a public health issue in Australia.

A Lifeline survey conducted in 2016 found that 60 per cent of respondents "often" felt lonely. The survey also revealed that 55 per cent of callers to the Lifeline crisis line (13 11 14) lived alone, "often without strong support networks".

Lifeline CEO Pete Shmigel said the findings showed the need for a whole community approach.

“For a society that is more technologically connected than we have ever been, these results suggest we’re overlooking good old-fashioned care and compassion when it comes to our mental health and wellbeing.

“Furthermore, with about 70 per cent of survey respondents having never called Lifeline or a similar service, we as a community need to be more mindful of how the people in our lives are coping, and send a strong message that no person in crisis should have to be alone – help is available.”

So, what can you do for yourself or a loved one experiencing loneliness?

Connecting or reconnecting with family or friends is a good place to start. If you’re not located close enough to see them in person, phone calls, email or social media can help. However, avoid completely substituting technology for the real thing.

Getting involved in local activities can help you make new friends and create a sense of belonging in the community. This could include volunteering, taking a class or joining a club or team. Even just spending time in a public space, such as a park, library or café, can foster a feeling of interaction and create opportunities for conversation.

If you’re lonely at home, consider adopting a pet.

Do you feel lonely and isolated? Do you know someone who is? What do you think needs to be done to address the problem?



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    16th May 2018
    Absolutely agree, if you have had a gregarious and social work life, then retirement is very hard and lonely, sense of worth goes out the window and one tends to focus on the silliest problems which never eventuated to such a degree before. Yes, hobbies, join a club etc are all so well and good, but if you are not that way inclined and have no family, life’s tough...
    16th May 2018
    Yes, being a widow, retired, and not wishing to pester my children and their families, I do spend a lot of time on my own. I do have a dog, walk her every morning and greet fellow walkers as I go. I volunteer at an aged person’s facility where my help is gratefully received by both staff and residents and it is this interaction that gives me a sense of self worth and usefulness; if your health allows then volunteering makes a huge difference!!
    16th May 2018
    The Men's Shed is such a good initiative. It would be great if there were more mixed agenda community centres that didn't require charity work, religious affiliation, or expensive joining fees.
    I would have to say the off leash dog parks are the best for meeting people. If you don't own a dog offer to take someone else's for a walk.
    I must say I don't see the very old out and about so I can see how life becomes very lonely. I am chatting to Google Home at the moment. Its AI is woeful but I guess it will improve.
    16th May 2018
    Yes Rosret, Men’s sheds are a great idea if you’ve been a tradie, but as I posted on another forum, they don’t cater for the white collar workers/ sales/corporate exec types, a Men’s/Women’s Office Shed would be the way to go! Lol
    16th May 2018
    Jem I agree , but I think there are many groups for women these days set up around crafts and the like , even line dancing ,there are very few men's only groups , I think there should be more. When there is a group some women seem determined to force their way in, which is a shame.
    16th May 2018
    Not sure where you got your information, Jem, about white collar workers not being catered for in the Men's Shed organisation. All attendees can contribute in one way or another and there is no discrimination.
    16th May 2018
    OM if you have been a man manager most of us don't want to be one in retirement. I have considered joining the men's shed but I'm worried about cutting all my fingers off. :)
    16th May 2018
    I talked my husband into joining the Men’s Shed. They have other things available, discussion groups, photography, book clubs. No longer just for Tradies. He enjoys the company and it gets him mixing with other men. I would also recommend the University Of the Third Age. Ours costs $40 per year. Most activities are free, or nominal amount. If you have a skill or knowledge to share they are always looking for volunteers.
    16th May 2018
    From a mans point of view The men's shed is a good initiative but if you are like me and have been in administrative roles most of your life you are probably not at home in a workshop. Today As you get older relationships with women are problematic, it's a great way to end up broke besides women these days are far too much hard work so I can understand men not being interested.
    While I've always supported groups like lifeline and beyond blue ,recent support by lifeline for Clementine Ford have cast some serious doubts on lifeline's support for men and I won't be financially supporting them in the future. Personally I think some of these charities should be investigated, recent events has changed my view completely. So that leaves lonely men in a difficult situation which probably won't get better.
    16th May 2018
    By the way if you are considering a dog for company, I think that is an excellent idea, I think they are worth the effort.
    16th May 2018
    Yes Tib, I can unfortunately relate to many of your comments about the opposite sex,having been stung twice, lol, I was just being politically correct..Thankfully I have a good one now, third time lucky eh! Lol
    16th May 2018
    Jem I hope you have a good one as well. Best of luck. :)
    16th May 2018
    Try the discussion group at the Men’s Shed Tib. More and more white collar workers these days
    16th May 2018
    I’m very jaded re the Big charities. The CEO and Executive salaries are obscene. Not sure how much gets through to the intended recipients. I prefer small local charities or ones I can see are doing good
    16th May 2018
    Thank you ladies that was very positive and supportive. I will look further into men's sheds. I just assumed it was for men that liked using power tools. Not me.
    16th May 2018
    I disagree with the last sentence in the above article, that spending time in a public park or library or similar "can foster a feeling of interaction" - sometimes being alone in amongst a lot of other people can actually emphasise your "aloneness" and increase a feeling of loneliness. Yes, it can increase the opportunity for conversation, however that needs two things - 1. that the lonely person is confident enough to start conversation with a stranger and 2. that the other person is willing to respond and continue the conversation and interaction. Even within a social group or club it can be difficult to make friends, especially as we get older, and especially if the group has already formed friendships within it, which makes it hard for newcomers to join into those friendship. It is not simple to make new friends but somethings I have found that work are 1. invite people to your home for a cuppa or lunch or to share an interest (ie gardening) - set a day and time and confirm by phone the day before if they are still able to come 2. arrange to meet someone at a coffee shop or café for lunch and confirm the arrangements the day before, 3. arrange a specific outing that you and someone else would enjoy and confirm the arrangements the day before. Take it slowly, be friendly and positive in your attitude. Ring someone a few times for a chat before embarking on a social activity if you are unsure or lacking confidence. And always remember that friendships take effort and it's a 2-way thing - both (all) parties must make the effort.
    Lou Lou
    16th May 2018
    Having just separated after a 30 marriage due to my husbands dementia. I am now on my own my kids are grown up my grandchildren too have busy lives it’s hard to feel positive. I am and always have been a people person I hate the aloneness. When you don’t have much money there is not much to do yes I’ve done the volenteer work and community groups but find a lot of
    Bitchy ness goes on I don’t need that. Any good retirement village costs heaps as to the dog boxes they are building all over Australia and most two story has no one told them older people don’t do stairs. As for home help it’s a joke too. Half the old people get it so that they have someone just to talk to. Is it any wonder so many of us baby boomers want to bring in ethanasia .
    If I live to my mothers age I’ve still got 30 years to kill .
    Doing what how many hobbies and outing can you do in that time as I said if money was no object easy but on an age pension forget it. Lou Lou
    16th May 2018
    Lou Lou, sorry to read your comment - try to be positive and maybe try one or two of the tips I have made above. I too live on age pension and it can be hard financially but a cup of coffee with a (new) friend doesn't cost much, ditto a home-cooked lunch... Good Luck
    16th May 2018
    Lou Lou, don't any of your kids have young kids. My lady is currently spending 4 days a week staying with our youngest daughter, doing the child minding thing with our 15 month old granddaughter. The daughter is 125 kilometres away so she stays there. She finds it tiring but satisfying.

    This gives me 4 peaceful days when the TV stays OFF, & I can chat via the net with friends all round the world, then 3 days getting her ready to go & do the grandmother thing all over again. With my participation in a couple of car clubs, & a remote control model aircraft flying, I'm so busy I wonder how I found the time to go to work back in the day.

    Our local town has a community group that runs a club room offering morning tea & lunch to visitors. Their courtesy bus picks up from our area once a week, taking those who don't drive in for the day, & organising shopping if required. Most areas have such organisations, try looking for one in your area. My mother found it a real pleasure for many years.

    16th May 2018
    I'm nearly 56, and for a variety of reasons, have been lonely all my life. It has affected my health - physical and mental.
    16th May 2018
    Don't let it eat you up. Most of us have felt like that at some point. My suggestion is buy a dog. Joint a group that suits you. Don't get involved with a woman unless you are very sure. They're dangerous. If you want sex , buy it. Don't look outside yourself for happiness. Keep busy!
    16th May 2018
    Well what outcome do you expect when your interviewees come from Lifeline?

    ALL Lifeline callers are in pain when they call. Exactly what causes that pain is irrelevant to anyone except them and the Lifeline counsellor: it can range from not knowing which lolly to buy for a Grandchild (true case) to a victim of sexual abuse (also a true case) to someone on the eve of ANZAC day playing Russian Roulette with a service gun whilst talking to Lifeline (another true case). The point is each case will say they are alone or lonely (there is a difference) which is exactly why they call in the first place.
    16th May 2018
    Not all call because they are lonely , some are just looking for a reason not to kill themselves. If you call beyondblue if you are a guy they will tell you to call a Men's help line. Men I have spoken to who are suicidal did not feel supported. It's one of the reasons I don't support beyond blue any more. For men it's harder and harder to find anyone who gives a dam. As a result male suicides rise higher and higher.
    17th May 2018
    I would suggest Tib that anyone with suicidal ideology are in that position partly because they are feeling lonely even if they are not physically alone.

    Male suicide rates are high (and have almost always been) at all age groups. Partly because men are not as 'open' as women in talking about what they are going through; even with other men or their GP. "That's not what a real man does"!

    I agree the figures are appalling and more needs to be done. However, men also have to take the initiative and speak up, be their own health advocate and start learning the lessons women have demonstrated work. Too many men rely on women 'nagging' them over all health issues before they even get to a GP. Men need to step up and take responsibility for their own health. Only then will scarce research dollars be directed towards specific 'Men's Health' issues. It is not enough to sit back and bemoan the plight of men's health and be scathing about the successes women have achieved in specific women's health issues. Men have to get off their behinds and actually DO something; and that can start with making an appointment with their GP without being prodded by their female significant other.
    17th May 2018
    "without being prodded by their female significant other" KSS ?
    Isn't the point Tib's making to the exclusion of "other"?

    Lonely, alone - urban myth in our fast paced, well connected, forever 'in your face' societies. TV (all formats), radio, print media, proliferation of phones - landlines, cell, satellite and PC's.
    Accessibility to the big wide world - most the population owns/drives a private car, can/does travel most anywhere of their choosing.

    No able bodied person needs to be alone: although some 'loners' do exist, largely as a matter of their own making - for any number of varying reasons.
    We only get to enjoy living in our free society by embracing the endless possibilities on offer. Obstacles to enjoyment begin or end with the individual.

    In the absence of; dogs, cats, (care not to trip over em), birds, kids, churches, social groups, community involvement, clubs, pubs, shopping malls, week end stalls and funerals, then join an online social forum... you'll be over the moon judging by the proliferation of regular 'poor me' soulmates.

    That's assuming one has a life to begin with.
    17th May 2018
    KSS mostly your comment is untrue. It's the typical victim blaming that goes on if men have a problem. If women have a problem it's everyone else's fault , if men have a problem it's their fault. By the way most men that suicide have been to their doctor more than once but did not receive the support they needed.thats from a UK report I read years back. By the way I've talked to many men battling depression and they didn't receive any support from their wife, in most cases their wives were more concerned in their ability to work and provide money. That's the truth for you.

    Robin Williams
    I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone, it's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.' – Robin Williams.
    17th May 2018
    By the way KSS men pay 70% of tax is payed by men. So those funds that women receive that you are quick to claim as a women's accomplishment is provided by men. Allocated by governments dominated by men.
    The problem is men support women , women support themselves, no one supports men. So women should not be so proud of themselves.
    1st Jun 2018
    My dilemma is that although I live alone, and sometimes crave more human contact, I also enjoy doing things on my family are interstate, have some good friends where I live, but am pretty self-sufficient most of the time. It was hard when I recently spent 3 weeks in and out of hospital, and it tended to fall to one person who helped me a lot when I got home. I also don't do well in big crowds of people. Finding it harder to do things on my own.

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