HONOLULU - Lonliness in mid- to late-life:

A survey released by AARP Foundation, “Loneliness and Social Connections: A National Survey of Adults 45 and Older" finds that one in three U.S. adults age 45 and older are lonely. While the percentage is unchanged from a previous loneliness study conducted by AARP Research in 2010, approximately five million more midlife and older adults are lonely due to growth in this age group among the population.

The survey used the UCLA loneliness scale, which includes 20 items designed to assess subjective feelings of loneliness, as the primary measure of loneliness. Over the past several years, both loneliness and isolation have emerged as public health issues that could have serious implications for quality of life and the U.S. economy if not properly addressed.

“The increase in the number of lonely adults 45 and over is significant. Loneliness, especially as it relates to social isolation factors, has real consequences for people’s health,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation. “Studies show that isolation and loneliness are as bad for health as obesity or smoking. This survey’s results send a clear signal that we need to direct more attention and resources to this complex and growing public health issue.”

Among other findings, the survey identified several risk factors and predictors of loneliness. Notably, populations at increased risk for chronic loneliness include people with low income (less than $25,000 per year), unpaid caregivers, and those who self-identify as LGBTQ.

Overall, the survey found that increased social connections can reduce social isolation and loneliness. In particular, it revealed a clear relationship between loneliness among midlife and older adults and their connections with their neighbors — which is a new area of focus in 2018. Thirty-three percent of midlife and older adults who have spoken to their neighbors are lonely, compared with 61 percent who have never spoken to a neighbor.

“Connecting with our neighbors is about more than goodwill; it’s also about good health,” said Ryerson. “An act as simple as saying hello and striking up a conversation with your neighbor can make a huge difference in helping someone who is lonely or isolated feel more connected to their community.”

The ways in which older adults cope with loneliness vary depending on how frequently they feel lonely. Chronically lonely adults are more likely to turn to isolated activities to cope, such as watching television or surfing the internet, while those who are not chronically lonely are more likely to talk with a friend or go out with family when feelings of loneliness do occur, the AARP said.

Fewer than 20 percent of people have discussed feelings of loneliness with their health care provider.

 “Loneliness and Social Connections: A National Survey of Adults 45 and Older,” which was prepared by AARP Research, fielded by GfK Custom Research and funded by Consumer Cellular and AARP Foundation, represents an updating of an AARP Research survey conducted in 2010. Since that time, the field has evolved and AARP Foundation’s focus has expanded to include social isolation.

Hawaii Department of Health urges health care organizations statewide to prepare for start of “Our Care, Our Choice” Act"
The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) advises health care organizations statewide to prepare for the Jan. 1, 2019 effective date of the “Our Care, Our Choice Act” which allows adult residents with a medically confirmed terminal disease and less than six months to live the choice to obtain a prescription for medication to end their life. The DOH, guided by an advisory group, is working with the community to establish a process which assures the patient experience is optimal and that patients and their family members fully understand all end-of-life care options.

The DOH is requesting health care providers statewide anticipate patient needs and develop policies and procedures that assure patients are fully aware and informed of alternative treatments such as palliative care and hospice care, as well as workflows that support timely referrals, effective clinical standards, clinician support, and clear communication.

Health care organizations statewide seeking assistance or more information may contact the DOH Office of Planning, Policy, and Program Development at (808) 586-4188.
The “Our Care, Our Choice” Act will give mentally capable, terminally ill people with six months or less to live the option to take prescription medication that enables them to die peacefully in their sleep. Modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which has been in practice for 20 years, the Hawaii law establishes a regulatory process under which the terminally ill patient may choose to obtain a prescription for medication to end their life.

This includes strict eligibility criteria and safeguards that ensure a safe, compassionate and patient-centered end-of-life process. Among the safeguards: the patient is required to take the medication on his/her own; two doctors must confirm the terminal illness and six-month prognosis; patients are not eligible for medical aid in dying based on age or disability; the attending physician must inform the requesting patient about all end-of-life care options including pain and symptom management, hospice and palliative care; the patient’s mental capacity must be confirmed by a mental health professional; two separate requests for medication must be made, with a 20-day waiting period between the first and second request; a written request overseen by two witnesses is also required, with one witnesses prohibited from being a beneficiary of the patient’s estate.

The new law will also make it a criminal offense to tamper with a patient’s request for a prescription or to coerce a patient to request a prescription.

Waipio Gentry walking group:

A Central Oahu doctor is inviting people to join her free weekly walking group. Waipio Gentry pediatrician Theresa Wee leads the local chapter of "Walk With A Doc" at Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park. It's every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. sharp for one hour. Meet near the tennis courts. 

Dr. Wee says most of the walkers are seniors, and in the three years she's led this, the results have been "amazing." She says some of the participants went from never exercising in their life to running a half marathon or walking 10,000 steps daily. This program started nearly 15 years ago in Ohio and there are now nearly 500 groups across the world as well as in 21 countries. 

Dr. Wee starts with a health tip and a stretch, then a walk for 50 minutes at your own pace before cooling down. "I always have fruits and water to end the morning," she adds. 

Perhaps the best part of the walk is just meeting new people and developing friendships. "We have become family, and I would like to see more participants taking advantage of this free program. It's open to all ages, no matter what insurance you have. We have loads of fun!" encourages Dr. Wee.

To learn more about Walk with a Doc, call Dr. Wee at Wee Wellness Center at (808) 677-9988.