is mounting evidence that loneliness significantly
increases the chances of diabetes, sleep disorders,
and other potentially life-threatening problems.
Research has also shown a greater risk of high
blood pressure among lonely people, as well as
higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, weakened immune systems, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Over time, the heightened stress that comes
with chronic loneliness takes an emotional and
physical toll. The lonely find it difficult to control
their emotions. They overreact to small things
and feel threatened when approached by strangers. They withdraw further, and a downward spiral begins. “Lonely people have more miserable
lives,” says Cacioppo, “and earlier deaths.”
over the past
than 44 million
adults over age
45 suffer from
than 44 million older adults suffer from chronic
loneliness. These numbers corroborate a controversial study published four years ago, which
found that social networks are shrinking: The
percentage of Americans who say they have no
one to discuss important matters with rose from
10 percent in 1985 to more than 24 percent in
2004; those with just one or two confidants increased from 31 percent to 38 percent.
This increase was so rapid that some experts
insisted it couldn’t be real. But it didn’t surprise
Robert Putnam, Ph.D., the Harvard professor
whose 2000 book Bowling Alone charted a long-term decline in Americans’ civic engagement.
“Boomers have been more socially disengaged
than their parents all their adult lives,” he says.
The severe recession that started in 2007 has
likely contributed to the rise as well. “The general effect of economic hard times in the past has
been that people hunker down and withdraw
from their communities,” says Putnam, who
studied trends in group membership, churchgoing, and other social activities throughout the
Living alone and growing old are not, by themselves, reliable predictors of loneliness. Indeed, as noted previously, our
study found that loneliness decreases with age: Middle-aged
survey respondents reported higher rates of chronic loneliness, dispelling the notion that loneliness and isolation
are inevitable consequences of old age. Consider these
EVERYONE FEELS LONELY FROM TIME to time. It’s normal to feel lonely after a loss, for example, such as a divorce or a death in
the family. Therapists call this situational loneliness, a painful but temporary condition. It differs
from chronic loneliness, a destructive cycle that is
difficult to reverse (the “lonely” in this article are
chronically lonely). “If a person with a high need
for connection suffers a loss or fails to nurture relationships, they are at greater risk of falling into chronic loneliness,” says Cacioppo, coauthor of Loneliness: Human Nature
and the Need for Social Connection. The destructive cycle
begins when a painful rejection or loss makes a person fear
more rejection. That fear in turn generates a defensiveness
that makes it harder to connect with other people.
According to the Census Bureau, 127 million
Americans are over age 45. That means,
based on our survey results, that more
your level of
Instructions The following state-
ments describe how people some-
times feel. For each statement please
indicate how often you feel the way described,
by writing a number in the space provided.
There are no right or wrong answers.
1. How often do you feel
unhappy doing so many
2. How often do you feel you
have no one to talk to?
3. How often do you feel you
cannot tolerate being so
4. How often do
you feel as if no
5. How often do you
find yourself waiting for
people to call or write?
6. How often do you feel
7. How often do you feel
unable to reach out and
communicate with those
8. How often do you feel
starved for company?
9. How often do you feel it
is difficult for you to make
Scoring A total score
is computed by adding
up the response to each
question. The average
loneliness score on the
measure is 20. A score
of 25 or higher reflects a
high level of loneliness.
A score of 30 or higher
reflects a very high level
UCLA Loneliness Scale ©
Dr. Daniel Russell
Learn to tell the difference, and find out how being
lonely affects your health at aarp.org/loneliness.