Seniors' movement takes aim at loneliness 'plague'

Aug. 31—COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A national movement to shake up older Americans' approach to retirement is taking aim at one of the most serious problems plaguing many seniors: loneliness.

The faith-based Retirement Reformation, led by 81-year-old speaker and author Bruce Bruinsma, has launched a new podcast series to help seniors recognize the health-ravaging "symptoms" of chronic loneliness and take steps to counter it. The Retirement Reformation equips seniors to engage in meaningful roles in their post-working life.


"Elvis sang 'I'll be so lonely, I could die," Bruinsma said.

"Sadly, those words ring true for many of us."

Recent studies show loneliness affects a huge number of older Americans.

One-in-three senior adults ages 50-80 said they were "sometimes" or "often" lonely, according to a survey by the University of Michigan. A separate AARP survey reported similar results.

"Loneliness is a senior plague that we need to address right now," Bruinsma said.


Loneliness "significantly" increases the risk of premature death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), comparing the "health risks of loneliness" with smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.

Loneliness also increases the risk of dementia by 50%, stroke by 32%, and heart disease by 29%, the CDC reports, linking it to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

To combat loneliness, America needs more groups and organizations "that bring meaning and purpose" to seniors' lives, geriatrician Linda Fried told a panel of the National Academies of Sciences, examining the impact of loneliness.

"America's seniors are finding that it's not fulfilling or healthy to 'do nothing' in retirement and cut yourself off from others," Bruinsma said. "They're looking for real purpose and meaningful connections that enrich their lives, and that's where the Retirement Reformation community can help them discover their new role and get plugged in."


According to — an academic news site — "loneliness can often be oversimplified or reduced to how many friends a person has or how often they see their loved ones."

But researchers that conducted 80 in-depth interviews with seniors as part of The Loneliness Project said aging "brings about a series of inevitable losses that deeply challenge people's sense of connection to the world around them."

The deepest sense of loss — and loneliness — comes following the death of a spouse or long-term partner, researchers found.

"Whatever the cause of their loneliness, people need to know there is light at the end of the tunnel and there are always opportunities to overcome loneliness and make meaningful life connections again, no matter how old you are," Bruinsma said.