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Survey: Loneliness a Top Concern Around Holidays

While older Americans may lead more solitary lives, researchers have found that loneliness is highest among teenagers and young adults. (Pixabay)
While older Americans may lead more solitary lives, researchers have found that loneliness is highest among teenagers and young adults. (Pixabay)
December 22, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Many people associate the holidays with warm and positive feelings, but for others, it can be a lonely and difficult time.

An AARP Foundation survey found that 31 percent of adults 18 and older say they have felt lonely during the holiday season in the past five years, and 41 percent worry about a family member or friend.

Tom Lacock, associate state director of AARP Wyoming, points out that strong social connections are key to physical and mental health.

"Social isolation is more than just someone feeling a little bit lonely," he explains. "Research has shown that the health impact of prolonged isolation is the equivalent of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. So, there's a big, big impact on people's physical health, as well as their mental well-being."

According to U.S. Census data, more than one in four Americans lives alone, and more than 8 million older adults experience social isolation.

Recent research from Brigham Young University found that loneliness is on the rise, and may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity.

On the positive side, the AARP survey also found that 67 percent of adults feel happy when they think about spending time with family and friends during the holidays.

More than a third of people surveyed said they experience more kindness from strangers during the holidays, which also provide more opportunities to connect with people. Lacock points to the website Connect2Affect.org, which features tools and resources to help evaluate isolation risk, and offers practical ways to reconnect with the community.

"Do the little things," he adds. "If you can knock on the door, you know – just 'take their temperature' from time to time, see how they're doing, how they're feeling – and include them in any small social gatherings that you can. A little bit goes a long way at this time of year."

Older Americans might lead more solitary lives, but they're not necessarily more lonely. BYU researchers found loneliness is actually at its peak among teenagers and young adults.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY