By 2030, it’s projected to be 73 million, more than 20% of the total U.S. population. Specialists refer to the group as a “silver tsunami” because it’s expected to wash over many aspects of society: health care, housing, transportation, technology.
The concern about loneliness, which some have labeled a public health epidemic, is not limited to the United States. Two years ago, the United Kingdom appointed a minister for loneliness after government research showed that millions of people often or always feel lonely. Some 200,000 older people in Britain said they had not had a conversation with a relative or a friend in more than a month.
Researchers are diving into the differences between social isolation (the objective reality of living alone) and loneliness (the subjective feeling of distress). They know that not everyone who lives alone is lonely, and not everyone who lives with others isn’t. But they don’t yet fully understand why.
They are exploring various risk factors, including genetics and the loss of loved ones. They are studying the biological and behavioral processes triggered by loneliness. And they are identifying ways to intervene when someone is lonely.
Jeste is a leader in all this, particularly as it pertains to seniors.
Born near Bombay, educated there and in the U.S. (Cornell and George Washington), he focused initially on general psychiatry and schizophrenia, a diverse group of psychotic disorders that was generally understood to worsen over time. But his research showed that older people with it got better (think mathematician John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind”). That fascinated him, as did another study that showed people get happier as they age, and he settled into a career in geriatric neuropsychiatry.