There’s a common belief older people are lonely. But while older people are more isolated due to the pandemic, it’s younger people who are the loneliest.
That’s one of the powerful points in the recent Washington Post article, “Loneliness poses profound public health threat, surgeon general says.” “Strikingly, older adults have the highest rates of social isolation,” writes Fenit Nirappil. “But young adults are almost twice as likely to report feeling lonely as senior citizens do.”
So, if isolation is more characteristic of older people but loneliness can be worse when we’re younger—what can we do about it?
At HelpAge USA, we are working with a group of older, primarily Black adults aged 60+ in Washington, DC, called DC Grandparents for Mental Health, who are mobilizing to address the mental health crisis. They’re participating in training to learn how to support others effectively, particularly youth.
Building on the evidence-based Friendship Bench model in Zimbabwe, the training taps into the power of older people to create a sense of belonging in the community.
In other words, older people give younger generations the connection and support they need—which, in turn, can help combat their sense of isolation.
As one of our DC Grandparents said, “older people have gone through more of a process. We are more centered, more still; we’ve been through the milestones of being an adult.” So—while social isolation may be higher at older ages, loneliness and the things that can cause it are not.
The Surgeon General and Nirappil’s article call out for ways to mend the social fabric of our nation. Intergenerational initiatives like Grandparents for Mental Health, that address both isolation and loneliness, are part of the solution.