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There's a difference between "alone" and "lonely"

Posted Mar 30 2009 11:15am

I love being alone. Perhaps it's because I'm seldom in a room alone (I'm not counting my dog or parrot here), or just because I'm an only child. I look forward to time alone to read, reflect, write, or do whatever I feel like doing. I revel in it. I rejoice in it.

But, plunk me into a room full of people where I don't know anyone and it's excruciating. I feel downright lonely. Yes, I'm outgoing and truly like getting to know new people, but I do not like being lonely. Going out to eat alone is another lonely experience I avoid like the plague.

We don't often draw the distinction between being alone, and feeling lonely.

One of the topics I often talk about with families of elderly loved ones is support networks. If the adult children are adamant that their mom or dad must move because they no longer have friends in the neighborhood, I often ask about the support network. Is there someone their elderly parent can call on if needed? Perhaps it's OK if their parent is alone. It doesn't mean they're lonely. And, if the senior isn't complaining about feelings of loneliness, perhaps being alone is not a criteria for a senior to move.

On the other hand, perhaps loneliness is a reason to consider moving. A recent study at the University of Chicago found that loneliness or feelings of isolation can have a negative impact on senior's mental health:

  • The most socially connected older adults are three times as likely to report very good or excellent health compared to those who are least connected, regardless of whether they feel isolated.
  • Older adults who feel least isolated are five times as likely to report very good or excellent health as those who feel most isolated, regardless of their actual level of social connectedness.
  • Social disconnectedness is not related to mental health unless it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • As we discuss whether or not it's time to move with aging loved ones, consider whether being alone truly means being lonely. 

    Other Blog Articles

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