C-Force: Loneliness Is a Public Health Problem That's Not Growing Old

: Chuck Norris on

The term "blue zones" refers to select areas around the world with the highest share of people over age 100. By studying these areas, it is believed the findings might lead to community initiatives that enable longer life among the populus. I have written about Blue Zones Project's work in the past. This headline for a recent KFF Health News story caught my eye -- "Good Friends Might Be Your Best Brain Booster as You Age." The article was written by Judith Graham, an Association of Health Care Journalists member focusing on aging. Among her subjects was Edith Smith, a retired teacher from Chicago who refers to herself as "a proud 103-year-old." Smith describes herself as "a very friendly person."

It made me immediately think of my 102-year-old mother, Wilma Norris Knight. She will soon be celebrating her 103rd birthday, and she is also sharp and very sociable. Like Smith, she is a lively centenarian with an extraordinary memory for someone her age.

A study by Northwestern University researchers suggests "a notable link between brain health and positive relationships," Graham writes. "For nine years, these experts have been examining 'SuperAgers' -- men and women over age 80 whose memories are as good -- or better -- than people 20 to 30 years younger. ... Thirty-one older men and women with exceptional memories, mostly from Illinois and surrounding states, are currently participating in the project.

"Previous research by the Northwestern group provided tantalizing clues, showing that SuperAgers have distinctive brain features: thicker cortexes, a resistance to age-related atrophy and a larger left anterior cingulate (a part of the brain important to attention and working memory)," Graham writes. "But brain structure alone doesn't fully account for SuperAgers' unusual mental acuity." Social relationships are also essential for maintaining cognition. To quote Proverbs 27:9, the "sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel." We want friendships. We may see them as something of great value. Yet at the same time, we are told we are facing a "friendship recession."

According to Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in a Big Think interview, "the ideal number of close friends to have is somewhere around the three or four number. ... Today, 15% of young men say that they don't have a close friend." Loneliness, he says, is comparable to smoking cigarettes in terms of negative health effects. According to a U.S. News report of the American Psychiatric Association's latest Healthy Minds Monthly Poll, among U.S. adults, one in 10 says they feel lonely every day.

Right as Rain, a digital publication by UW Medicine, recently reported that though someone may be "connecting with friends on social (media), engaged at work and often surrounded by people," they may still feel lonely.

"Loneliness is the perception of not having sufficient relationships and interactions with others," says Dr. Sebastian Tong, a physician at the Family Medicine Clinic at Harborview Medical Center. "It's about how the individual perceives things."

According to the Right as Rain report, "The U.S. surgeon general called loneliness a public health concern back in 2017," notably before the pandemic. "Census data between 2014 and 2019 revealed that the amount of time Americans spent with their friends decreased each year. ... It's no surprise that a recent study found 20% of younger adults are lonely."

According to the National Council on Aging, adults 65 and older "are one of the fastest-growing groups in the nation, expected to reach 80.8 million in 2040." What younger folks often overlook when trying to shake off the burden of loneliness is that there is much they can learn from older adults.


As a 2021 blog post from the not-for-profit, faith-based health care organization Providence notes, "studies have shown older adults were less likely to experience pandemic-related anxiety, depression, and stress. Older adults have a reservoir of knowledge and skills that have helped them cope with challenges over many decades."

According to Dr. Maureen Nash, "They have a lifetime of overcoming challenging and difficult situations and the only way to get through that is by being resilient ... 'the ability to thrive during extreme challenges.'"

"(Resilience) can help you recognize the changes in your behavior that either have a positive or negative impact," the Providence post continues. "Older adults can often acknowledge the difficulties of life without losing sight of why they want to keep living. They also typically understand the need for expressing gratitude and forgiveness, as opposed to harboring past resentments, which can foster unhealthy aging," Nash says.

I am reminded of my mother's inspirational autobiography, "Acts of Kindness: My Story."

"We stay young in body by eating well and staying fit, but young in mind by not settling for status quo and always pressing onward and upward," she writes. "Despite our numerical age, the young in heart are those who are always challenging themselves, starting over, facing fears, taking risks and never giving up." As the adage goes, "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."

"It's important to remember that it isn't only about dealing with the bad things in life that builds resilience," Nash reminds us. "Creating positive connections with others and nurturing relationships that can withstand conflict can also help you develop resilience. Having people to lean on in difficult times can make a huge difference in how you cope with problems."


Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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