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Tackling a Silent Killer: Loneliness

By Trena Winans,
Director of Education and Outreach at Senior Services

What makes life worth living? Is it a sense of purpose, feeling connected to others, or some other element of wellness? These days it is common to fret about the state of young people, connected only through technology, but a different kind of disconnection plagues much of the older adult population. Elder ‘orphans’ are an increasing subset of the senior population. These are people with no close family left to them, and if they do not find other ways to feel connected, loneliness can become a central reality of their lives.

The reasons for this phenomenon are many. Some people never had a spouse or children, to begin with. Others have lost their nearest family and friends to death, distance, or estrangement. Yet others have become isolated due to disability and loss of transportation. Some have come to the conclusion that they no longer have anything to add and begin to wall themselves off from connection.

Whatever the reason, we know that loneliness can be deadly. The risk of mortality rises by more than a quarter among the lonely, who are also at higher risk of developing heart disease, dementia, and stroke. Frighteningly, the prevalence is very high, with up to 43% of older adults in the U.S. feeling lonely.

So, what can be done? Several local organizations are working together to address this serious issue. The effort, dubbed ‘Bridge to Belonging’ brings together MidMichigan Health, Michigan 211, and Senior Services. Health practitioners screen for loneliness, 211 refers them to services, and Senior Services provides ways for elders to find and build key connections. As part of these efforts, MidMichigan Health developed an informational video that you can see on our website at SeniorServicesMidland.org. From February 20 through March 19, their expert counselors will also lead a ‘Bridge to Belonging’ class at our Trailside Center.

Meanwhile, you can be on the lookout for friends and neighbors who may be isolated. We can all be good neighbors and ask these individuals to join us for coffee, lunch, or just stop by to chat.
If you are feeling lonely, we hope you will reach out to us. Try one of our Centers, join a class, attend ‘Bridge to Belonging’ or call us to see what resources we may have that can help. Together, we can make Midland County a community where everyone feels a sense of belonging. Let us commit to building those bridges.