The truth about loneliness:
What the data on
loneliness suggests

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Loneliness is one of the biggest problems in our society, impacting all walks of life. That said, our world has not previously had the tools to identify and measure it or get ahead of the risk factors. The truth is if we want to see radical changes in health, we must address loneliness with evidence-based data rather than being led by assumption. Although it is vital to address loneliness among all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic statuses, it’s time to shatter the myths about how we think loneliness looks so that we can be precise and effective in our solutions.

Addressing loneliness benefits members and their health plans because its a condition that must be solved before other health issues can be tackled. It’s a vital puzzle to solve, but who within the Medicaid and Medicare populations is actually lonely? Read on as we explore the data on loneliness to uncover the truth and how plans can help.

Chapter 1

Gender reveal: Who’s more lonely?

Gender is complex, impacting our perception of ourselves and the world around us. These lenses of identity can create feelings of separateness that often contribute to loneliness. Unquestionably, LGBTQ+ individuals are more predisposed to feelings of loneliness due to stigmas, social isolation and barriers to care. That said, cisgender, heterosexual men and women are not to be ignored in how gender influences loneliness.

Men are more likely to be lonely.

Whatever your preconception may be, data on loneliness tells us that men have been shown to be lonelier than women. In fact, when we look at the UCLA-3 — a tried-and-true measure of loneliness — 45% of men screen as lonely compared to 42% of women. Although this seems like a small difference, consider that men are three times more likely to score high for psychological distress on the same scale, revealing that something else may be at play.

The other factor is social isolation, which is linked tightly to loneliness. Men experience significant rates of social isolation, with the ​​English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) indicating that senior men in particular experience social isolation at higher rates than women. Specifically, the ELSA revealed that 1.2 million older men experienced moderate or high degrees of social isolation.

That said, women are often more vocal about their feelings. As a result, women are more willing to admit feelings of loneliness.

How men and women view relationships

Loneliness and isolation are rooted in fulfilling social needs, so it’s important to note the differences in how men and women approach social relationships

Men often place a higher value on instrumental aspects of relationships, such as common interests, whereas women often place a higher value on emotional aspects, such as mutual understanding and closeness. These differences further illustrate that men feel isolated — and consequently lonely — because they often don’t reach for emotional support.

Chapter 2

Loneliness across the ages

What does loneliness look like among different age groups? Data on loneliness tells us that older adults become lonelier based on factors such as living alone, being in poor health, having infrequent social interactions and being unmarried. However, teens and young adults may be living with family and still experience pervasive loneliness. Each age group has unique life demands and needs, making for a more complicated puzzle.

Age groups experience loneliness differently

Overall, loneliness peaks in three key age groups: the late 20s, mid-50s and late 80s. Of these groups, seniors are the least lonely, contradicting where most research is focused. 

The Cigna Loneliness Index reveals that 79% of young adults (18-24) feel lonely compared to 41% of seniors (66+). Additionally, two in five young adults “always” feel “left out.” Social media participation is a big contributor, as seven out of 10 heavy social media users report feelings of loneliness. And joining the workforce doesn’t help, with more than half of entry-level workers feeling they have no one to turn to on the job. 

As for the middle? Caretakers between 45-54 face higher rates of loneliness. That’s understandable because their lives revolve around someone else, without time or energy to invest in their own needs. 

Chapter 3

The geography of loneliness

City dweller, urbanite or rural resident? Lonely people live everywhere. But are some populations more likely than others to experience pervasive loneliness? Studies show that they are.

Loneliness differs across the map

The data on loneliness says that where you live contributes to loneliness. Specifically, rural populations tend to feel it more, with 46% of rural people scoring as lonely on the UCLA-3 compared to 42% of urbanites.

Still, loneliness among rural residents illustrates a prevailing fact: That loneliness doesn’t amount to simply being alone. The University of Montana proves this with its study of people living in large cities (metropolitan), small towns (micropolitan) and very rural areas (noncore). It found that rural residents have more social relationships — primarily among family — but are more likely to report feelings of loneliness. Additionally, certain groups of rural residents have a higher risk of loneliness — especially Black noncore residents, who are four times more likely to be lonely than white noncore residents.

Chapter 4

How loneliness affects plan groups

Medicaid and Medicare plan members have diverse needs and struggles, impacting their experiences with loneliness. This impacts their ability to engage, overall health outcomes and even satisfaction with their care.

Loneliness among Medicaid members

High-risk Medicaid members often have both acute and chronic physical and behavioral health conditions. Although this seems like more than enough weight to bear, they also often suffer from social isolation and loneliness. 

Lonely members struggle to engage in their health because of how they feel physically and emotionally, but they also lack self-management skills and tools. Some make avoidable visits to emergency departments (EDs) after delaying care due to their disconnect from appropriate resources — creating high spend in the most expensive care setting. 

Many Medicaid members do not understand their coverage and benefits, believing their medications are unaffordable. Because these members follow a pattern of medication non-adherence and contribute to its estimated $100 billion-$289 billion annual burden on U.S. health care, they become much more likely to be readmitted later.

Loneliness among Medicare members

Similarly, there’s a correlation between loneliness and health issues for Medicare members. Lonely Medicare members face increased risks of Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, memory loss and mortality. 

Additionally, in the face of loneliness and illness, Medicare members can develop lower perceptions of care. Loneliness skews a person’s worldview, impacting their satisfaction with the care and service they receive. They may not even fully understand the services available to them, creating new barriers to care. Together, these factors impact engagement, retention and your plan’s Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers (CAHPS) and Medicare Star ratings. Coupled with higher costs for care, these challenges cause a deterioration in the plan’s financial performance.

Chapter 5

Give your members the tools they need to overcome loneliness

Loneliness is multidimensional, requiring an evidence-based approach that considers each member’s experience. Understanding the key factors that contribute to loneliness can help you identify and tailor your solutions. Collecting the necessary information can allow you to address the root influences of loneliness for both Medicare and Medicaid members.

Pyx Health solves for loneliness across all demographics with solutions backed by predictive data. Our technology is built with the real face of loneliness in mind — that it isn’t a fleeting feeling or one experienced by just one demographic group. 

Plan members get access to positive psychology activities and an empathetic chatbot inside our software, plus compassionate, human-centered care and skill-building companionship through support staff we call ANDYs (Authentic, Nurturing, Dependable, Your Friend). We’re dedicated to working with each member to address their health needs, connect them to health resources and benefits, coordinate with care teams and provide empathetic technology with self-management tools. 

Are you ready for Pyx Health to support your plan? Let’s connect to discuss your needs. 

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