Why isolation can be just as dangerous to your health as smoking

There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely.

Sadly, too many kupuna are the latter, and that can have an impact on their health.

Isolation is very common among those 65 and older, and while many kupuna prefer to live alone and maintain independence, there are numerous challenges that come with that.

“Being lonely and being socially isolated is a health problem for our kupuna, and you actually run the risk of heaving more health problems,” said Barbara Kim Stanton, AARP Hawaii director. “You run the risk of having dementia, having maybe more strokes and other problems than if you’re engaged and interacting with people.”

But there is good news for Hawaii’s kupuna. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19 percent of Hawaii’s seniors live alone. That’s the lowest in the nation. North Dakota is the highest with nearly 28 percent.

“We look at the statistics and we see that Hawaii has the lowest of statistic of people living alone, and I think that’s really wonderful for kupuna,” said Stanton.

But the senior population is booming and that presents new challenges. The number of people 65 and over in Hawaii is projected to rise 45 percent over the next 15 years, and the number of Hawaii residents 85 and over will increase 50 percent.

“We’re going to see more of this isolation, because as you know, we have the highest longevity in any state and in the end, well the women outlive the men, so you’re going to see people who want to stay in their home, want to stay in their community,” Stanton said.

AARP Hawaii says people who live alone run the risk of living an average of seven years less than somebody who is engaged and is not lonely. It’s called living with a purpose.

“It’s as dangerous as if you are smoking 16 cigarettes a day. You are shortening your life if you’re not socially engaged,” Stanton warned.

It’s important to treat social engagement as a health condition that can lengthen your life.

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