We live in an age in which something isn’t really a problem (or at least, isn’t really a proper verifiable problem) until there is a monetary cost attached to it. If this is true, then the loneliness of the elderly can now be officially assigned to the “problem” category in the USA. According to the advocacy group AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and Stanford University’s Center on the Demography and Economics of Health and Aging, social isolation of those aged 65 years and older is costing the US government nearly $7 billion a year.
While 86 per cent of the 5,300 people over the age of 65 surveyed by the researchers had healthy social networks and were visited frequently by children, friends and other family, there were 14 per cent who were more isolated and suffered more frequently from depression and were more likely to have at least five chronic health problems. They also had more trouble performing basic daily activities like bathing and grooming. They were also more likely to be male, white, urban and poor than their more socially active peers.
Because Medicaid spent on average an additional $134 per month ($1608 per year) on each of these socially isolated individuals, this figure could be extrapolated out to the entire general elder population to get an additional $6.7 billion per year in spending (slightly more than arthritis and just a bit less than high blood pressure). (The total amount of Medicaid spending in 2016 was $565 billion.) While lonely people aren’t admitted to hospital more than well-connected people, when they are admitted, they stay there longer and need more expensive treatments. This is probably because they are sicker when they arrive and lack the support that might help them go home faster. They also spend longer in skilled nursing facilities, perhaps because they cannot rehabilitate at home.