NEW YORK (Reuters) – When Monica Dwyer of West Chester, Ohio thinks of retirement, her mind wanders to her family friend Paul.
Paul had a wife and kids, and a good job at Procter & Gamble. But his wife died 15 years before he did, and, over time, his social circles started shrinking, along with his finances.
Eventually, Paul “barely had money to eat,” Dwyer said. He kept his thermostat at 55 Fahrenheit (13 Celsius), even in frigid Ohio winters. He could not drive, surviving on $1 McDonald’s hamburgers, and was alienated from his children, before he died.
“He was a forgotten soul,” Dwyer said.
You might not hear of stories like Paul’s very often, but they are out there. A study here released last month by health services company Cigna (CI.N) found that nearly half of Americans report feeling lonely sometimes or always, which the study concluded is a national “epidemic.”
“We had been hearing from customers that they are feeling more disconnected and lonely, so we wanted to do some research to understand the state of loneliness across the U.S.,” said Dr. Doug Nemecek, Cigna’s chief medical officer for behavioral health. “What we found was astounding.”
The emotional impact of loneliness in retirement is obvious – feelings of being isolated and misunderstood, with social interactions that lack meaning. But loneliness turns out to have financial ramifications as well.
Take healthcare costs, for instance. “People who feel lonely are less healthy,” Nemecek said. “There are many studies linking loneliness to worsening heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression and substance abuse. In fact, healthwise, loneliness is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
If you are strategic and determined, there are multiple defenses against social isolation as you get older. Here are four tips from financial planners.