Guest Blogger:  Tony DiNuzzo, Ph.D., Director, ETGEC-C

Psychologists, such as Dr. Ben Martin, have written extensively on the significant differences between being lonely and being alone.   Obviously, many people considered “alone” live very rich, happy lives.  But what really is “being alone” in this context?  For most it means living alone – no spouse, partner, friend or family member living under the same roof.  What about having a cat or dog or fish – does that take care of it? What if they have many friends outside the home, at work, are active in the community, volunteer, play in a musical band.  They are not alone.  Yet all these souls may suffer from loneliness.  So it is the quality of those relationships that provides a difference between aloneness and loneliness.  Having close relationships translate into feeling less lonely – even if you live alone.

In terms of age, Dr. Martin writes that “contrary to many beliefs, the elderly are not the most lonely among us.”  They seem more comfortable in being alone or with themselves.   They may have a stronger sense of self compared to a younger soul, especially a teenager, who may be worried about being left out, restless and bored if there is not constant contact and stimulus.

Add a dose of depression – caused by feelings of loneliness or not – and there is a genuine risk of something bad happening.  The younger person generally hasn’t developed the skills to understand what to do to combat loneliness compared to seasoned old folks who have accepted their aloneness and fight being lonely through being more active in their community, sewing, playing golf, etc.

There is a part of me that sees this as the glass half full.  However, being a person who is getting older, it is challenging to accept aloneness or loneliness  – that it should be embraced and can be “fixed” with a few wise decisions and being proactive in life.  I have to disagree that the elderly are less likely to be lonely or know how to deal with it simply because they have more life experiences and possibly wisdom than a younger person.

Lonely is lonely and it is not a good thing.  As a society we are supposed to be more connected to the world, our family, friends, and communities.  And I know many who fight tooth and nail to NOT be alone.  I run in circles where “successful aging” is the norm.  Those circles of folks are well educated, open minded, talented, artistic – yes, mostly Democrats – and content in their lives.  And at 70, one of my best friends just started dating a wonderful friend of ours who is in her late ’60s.  He lived “alone” for many years and probably still wants to live “alone” now.  But he also wants a girlfriend!  He is not lonely at all.

Still there is a feeling that this circle of fortunate folks is not the norm.  Older adults who lose loved ones, see their health decline, don’t have financial resources or “talent” to stay active are at greater risk for loneness and the accompanying risks of depression, elder abuse, substance abuse and even suicide.  For some reason society doesn’t really look closely at those who are lonely – like the homeless person we look away from because we just  can’t deal with such sadness or are disgusted by it.

So listen to John Prine’s song, “Hello in There.”

So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello.”


  1. Martin, B. (2006). Being Alone Without Being Lonely. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 14, 2012, from
  2. Prine, J. (1971). Hello In There. John Prine (album). Atlantic Records.

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Grace Kiefer. Linked from

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