Loneliness: The Silent Killer

When we are young, our life is often full of activities and relationships. Our parents are still living; we may have children, siblings, and a spouse. Our many friends are mostly healthy. We are not likely to have chronic illnesses. We may have a pet or two. Most of us have a built in network of relationships and activities through our work. By the time we reach sixty five, many of those connections and activities have faded away. What we once took for granted is what we very much need and crave in later life: social connections and a meaningful, productive existence. Older people are especially vulnerable to loneliness. Life expectancy continues to get longer, and the world population is getting older. By 2050, one in four people in the world will be over sixty. Eighty percent of those over sixty will be living in lower income countries. 

Helping Families Through Prolonged Illness and Loss

Helping Families Through Prolonged Illness and Loss “I was shocked that the doctors and nurses never mentioned palliative care to my brother. A social worker friend recommended that my brother try yoga and acupuncture along with his chemotherapy and I found yoga and therapeutic massage helped me to cope with his caretaking.” “No one in the hospital would tell me what was going on. The doctors and nurses just came in for procedures. Everything was so rushed. Finally, when the nurse found me crying in the hallway, she asked if I’d like to see a social worker. The social worker apologized for not coming earlier but he was the only one in the hospital who would tell me what was happening to my husband.” The two stories above are the type we hear often, with different variations. A March 23 editorial in the Boston Globe referred to the fact that many more people in the state of Massachusetts die in hospitals compared with the rest of the country. With limited time to talk with patients, the editorial noted that physicians typically focus on the illness and its treatment and do not bring up end-of-life issues with patients and their families. Likewise, families wait for the doctor to initiate this discussion.