Boredom and Loneliness in the Elderly

Boredom and Loneliness in the Elderly


Ageing is a process that introduces humans to health problems and concerns. An elderly population is a group that has significant vulnerability due to age which makes the elderly a population of concern by healthcare providers. Boredom and loneliness in the elderly are concerns that have increased over years in the United States and the world at large. The healthcare providers in nursing homes, hospitals, and home-based care programmes must strive to provide stimulating activities to prevent the aged from sinking into a pit of depression. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that the older patients are likely to commit suicide as a result of loneliness which makes loneliness a topic of concern (Touhy, 2016). This article describes the epidemiology, definition, clinical presentation, complications and the diagnosis of boredom in the elderly.


The topic of boredom and loneliness has little literature and has been ignored by researchers for reasons not well known. However, the topic is not left out when examining conditions that have a great impact on the elderly.  According to Valtorta and Hanratty(2012) boredom is a subjective feeling and experience that nothing of interest is happening. The truth about boredom is that even one’s self-does do not provide any useful company and time seems to expand when bored with the present moments becoming interminable. Loneliness is a feeling of emptiness, sadness or deprivation. Loneliness is ubiquitous, a part or experience in life that does not get erased easily by opportunities for connection or reality. Loneliness poses more threats to life in the elderly than boredom because it is an intra-psychic and interpersonal experience. Boredom and loneliness are unique because they can exist even when the elderly are in a sea of others.


Studies on boredom and loneliness among the elderly are few. Many researchers focus on the social isolation paradigm in the elderly because it leads to boredom and loneliness. The epidemiological perspective of the condition is supported by research. In the United States, it has been found that 13% of the older people feel lonely due to various reasons. 22% of the elderly experience loneliness and boredom due to isolation. Isolation, boredom, and loneliness are not only just effects of aging but also due to life events associated with age (Melnyk and Fineout-Overholt, 2014). Life events like leaving work, grief, and a decline in health contribute to more than 60% of loneliness in the elderly.

The distribution of loneliness in the elderly is equal worldwide with an increased rate in developing countries. However, fewer studies have been conducted on the distribution of the condition. Surprisingly, the findings on the rates of loneliness among those aged 65 years and above are lower than those of 55 years and above. Studies were done to compare loneliness in nursing homes, and those in their actual homes conclude that more than half of the elderly in nursing homes report feeling lonely. Longitudinal studies from reports averaging seven years indicate that individuals with stronger social ties have a 50% greater chance of survival compared to those with poor social networks.

Clinical Presentation

Loneliness and boredom manifest physically in the elderly. It is easy to tell individuals who have a subtle feeling of emptiness. In the elderly, a long period of silence marks loneliness. Studies suggest that as people age, the tendency to talk all the time increases. However, when emptiness takes over the affected individual ceases to communicate. Others can report that they feel lonely and bored when they want help. The most frequent sign of loneliness and boredom in the elderly is depression. Depression can be viewed from the manifestation and complication perspective (Melnyk and Fineout-Overholt, 2014). Depressed individuals are isolated, talk less, portray a sad mood and assume specific postures. Lack of interest is observed in individuals who are bored. The elderly fail to participate in healthy events such as walking, eating or communicating to the health practitioners.


The major complication associated with loneliness and boredom in the elderly is depression. The elderly get into deep thoughts and forget their value in life. Depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and even suicide. Eating and sleep disorders are associated with the condition. Minor complications include increased stress and anxiety.


The diagnosis of loneliness in healthcare settings is based on clinical manifestations. Signs that indicate an individual is bored or feels lonely are used. However, a focused mental status examination can aid in the diagnosis of the condition. The MSE determines the level of separation, the cumulative wear and tear and the frequency of loneliness. Behavioral change patterns such as eating disorders and depression are true indicators of loneliness and boredom.


Loneliness and boredom have become a public health concern in the elderly. It makes people sick while interfering with a person’s day to day functioning. Loneliness and boredom with its epidemiology, etiology, complications and diagnostic criteria should be considered a disease.

PICOT question: In a geriatric based healthcare system, how is mental status examination more effective than clinical observation at preventing loneliness and boredom?


Valtorta, N., & Hanratty, B. (2012). Loneliness, isolation and the health of older adults: do we need a new research agenda? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine105(12), 518–522.

Melnyk, B. & Fineout-Overholt, E. (2014). Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing & Healthcare (3rd ed.). Wolters Kluwer Health / Lippincott Williams & Wilkins-LWW. ISBN: 9781451190946

Touhy, T. A., & Jett, K. F. (2016). Ebersole & Hess’ toward healthy aging: Human needs & nursing response.