Lonely baby boomers represent a public health threat

  • Baby boomers are aging alone more than any generation in U.S. history, and the resulting loneliness is a looming public health threat. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
  • That amounts to about eight million people in the U.S. without close kin, the main source of companionship in old age, and their share of the population is projected to grow.
  • Researchers have found that loneliness takes a physical toll, and is as closely linked to early mortality as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day or consuming more than six alcoholic drinks a day. Loneliness is even worse for longevity than being obese or physically inactive.

Along with financial issues including high debt and declining pensions, social factors such as loneliness are another reason boomers are experiencing more difficult retirement years than previous generations according to the Wall Street Journal.

The lack of social contacts among older adults costs Medicare $6.7 billion a year, mostly from spending on nursing facilities and hospitalization for those who have less of a network to help out, according to a study last year by Harvard University, Stanford University and AARP.

An elderly woman sadly looking out the window. Melancholy and depressed.

HCP’s are not trained to spot lonely patients and I’m not sure that they should be responsible for diagnosing loneliness. However, insurers may have the data to help spot loneliness but the question then becomes “is there any financial incentive to reach out to lonely people?”

My best friend for half a century suffered from loneliness. He had spent almost a year taking care of his father who was bed ridden and had to experience his father’s bad mood with phrases like “you’re not my son” and “get out of my house”. He did his best, but at the expense of ignoring his own health problem of diabetes. He didn’t check his blood sugar and as a result had a diabetic stroke that led to his passing.

Along with obesity and lack of exercise loneliness is costing us billions. Surely someone, somewhere, can develop a startup to address this issue funded in part by insurers who believe that patient wellness leads to better outcomes (and lower costs).