Maria Baer & John Stonestreet on the Isolation of the Elderly

Photo courtesy of Pixabay/Creative Commons

A couple of years ago, I came across a strange story out of Japan in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Dozens of elderly women, it turned out, admitted to crimes of petty theft in the hopes of going to prison. “There are always people around,” one of the inmates told a reporter, “and I don’t feel lonely here.”

I remembered this heartbreaking story a few weeks ago when The Atlantic published David Brooks’ latest piece about the nuclear family. Brooks argued that the nuclear family as we define it now, with mom, dad, and kids often isolated from extended family, was not the norm for most of human history. Our fragmenting into smaller and smaller, and ever more isolated, family units has hurt us, he said.

Much of Brooks’ piece, as well as the significant volume of responses it triggered, focused on the challenges of raising children without extended families. Unmentioned, but just as much at stake, is what the elderly population has to lose in these new modern arrangements.

After all, it is one of the largest generations in modern American history, the baby boomers, that make up today’s elderly. With far more boomers than there are Generation X-ers, the math just isn’t working out. Who will care for them?

The lack of a clear answer to that question explains a whole range of strange and heartbreaking stories like the thieving grandmas in Japan, or the increasing number elderly people who die alone at home and aren’t discovered for days or even weeks, or tech companies betting on a profitable opportunity in artificial intelligence that can keep the elderly company.

According to the last census, nearly 11 million Americans over 65 live alone. Another California study found that 43% of all seniors surveyed suffered from loneliness, whether or not they lived alone. Loneliness is especially hard on seniors.

A seven-year UK study found that “the lack of social contact leads to an early death, regardless of participants’ underlying health issues” because loneliness is linked to things such as “high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, a weakened immune system, depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

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Source: Christian Headlines

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