A study conducted by the University of California in San Francisco has shown that isolated elderly people live shorter lives than people with social bonds. The survey was conducted over several years among 1.600 people aged 71 and over. The results were published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine, a scientific journal.
With a similar state of health, 23% of the participants who were feeling lonely died in the first 6 years of the study, against 14% of those who felt « well taken care of ». There are many reasons to explain it:
– Contact with relatives helps keeping up morale
– Family bonds provide the elders with a more regular follow up: it is easier for the helpers to notice health issues.
– Encountering people outside the family circle through activities enable them to maintain a social bond, memory and shape.
According to Nielsen’s study (Global Ageing Report), fighting the loss of autonomy is the number one priority for 58% of the internet users questioned (18+). Followed next by : fighting the loss of physical capacities (57%) and cognitive capacities (51%), not becoming a burden for the family (49%). However, with the modern ways of life, it is not unusual that members of a family are living too far away to be able to visit their elders on a regular basis : business opportunities and travel, studies abroad, expatriation, etc.
Living together differently
In order to fight loneliness, alternatives to retirement homes are developing in France: house sharing between seniors, intergenerational housing (students, employees, retired), the retirement homes, etc.
House sharing, whether between seniors or intergenerational, seduces more and more in France. It is gradually increasing among retired people but only gathered 1% of the housemates in the first quarter of 2016. House sharing is a very common practice in English-speaking countries (especially in large cities such as London and New York where the rents are high) where it represents 40% of the rental market.
The Case of Japan
Japan approximately counts 21% of people over 65 including more than 40.000 centenarian. It is the oldest country in the world, but also the one registering the most suicides and murders within senior couples. Between January and November 2008, the archipelago recorded 21 cases where one person in a couple killed the other before attempting to, or succeeding in killing themselves, because this person could not take care of the other anymore or was afraid of not being able to.
What is at stake here is: a low basic pension (approximately €500), the lack of beds in retirement home, the distance with the relatives and the discreet nature of the Japanese who are ashamed of being supported by their family or the government. Thus, this is generally the over 65s who are the ones helping the over 65s (48%). The homes where the elderly live with their children and grandchildren are disappearing in favour of a more western way of life: youngsters are leaving the suburbs for the large cities where they work and study, leaving the countryside deserted.
Sources (French language) :
– Senior Actu – La vie de famille prolonge l’espérance de vie des anciens : http://www.senioractu.com/La-vie-de-famille-prolonge-l-esperance-de-vie-des-anciens_a19616.html
– Elle – Colocation, couples, familles, divorcés, seniors, ils s’y mettent tous : http://www.elle.fr/Societe/News/Tous-colocataires-3297481
– Le Figaro – Le Japon sous le « choc argenté » des seniors : http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2009/10/26/01003-20091026ARTFIG00440-le-japon-sous-le-choc-argente-des-seniors-.php
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