Nearly Half of Israel's Elderly Suffer Loneliness

Sense of isolation in the elderly is higher among Arabs than Jews, and among women than men.

A caregiver with an elderly Israeli woman in Tel Aviv (illustrative).
Ariel Shalit

According to the social survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics, 42 percent of Israelis aged 75 and above suffer from loneliness. These statistics indicate that even in the younger age group, those aged 65-74, the picture isn't much rosier - 32 percent are lonely.

Although the figures have already been presented several times during Knesset discussions and at special seminars, and although already in 2011 an interministerial committee was appointed to examine ways of dealing with loneliness among the elderly, even now, five years later, Israel has no orderly plan for handling the problem.

According to CBS statistics, the sense of loneliness is higher among women than among men aged 65 and above: about 43 percent versus 27 percent. In Arab society there is a greater sense of loneliness: 60 percent compared to 34 percent among Jews.

The report of the committee for examining ways of dealing with loneliness among the elderly was published about two years ago, but the months have passed and the conclusions are still in the drawer. Among the recommendations were the development of new programs designed to help the elderly to deal with the sense of loneliness; an upgrading of existing programs, such as social clubs and senior citizens' centers; conducting research focused on the subject in Israel, and more. These recommendations have remained on paper.

The only change that is taking place is a special experiment that will begin soon, which is based on the conclusions of the committee to reduce loneliness, which is a joint effort of the Social Affairs Ministry, the American Joint Distribution Committee and the National Insurance Institute. It will include programs designed to help the elderly to deal with the sense of loneliness, while adopting types of activity and intervention methods that have been found to be effective. Among them are moderated groups, academic studies together with students, personal guidance and more.

According to the report published in 2014, the main conditions responsible for the development or intensification of a sense of loneliness are: "retirement from work, a forced change in place of residence, widowhood, physical or mental deterioration and a decline in active social involvement after retirement."

Loneliness linked to health, economic status

According to the report, "Usually there is a tendency to explain the link between loneliness and parameters of morbidity in terms of the effects of loneliness on the elderly person's health." The CBS findings confirm this assumption, and determine that the frequency of a sense of loneliness among elderly people in very good health is 17.6 percent, among those whose health is not so good - 43 percent, and among those whose health not at all good - 57.8 percent.

Similar differences can be found regarding the financial ability to cover household expenses: About 21 percent of those who can afford their household expenses feel lonely compared to about three times as many (62 percent) among those who find it difficult. "Loneliness is a quiet plague that strikes mercilessly at the elderly and in the end undermines their functioning, their independence and finally their health too," MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), chairman of the Knesset Lobby for Pensioners, told Haaretz. "The world is running forward and they are simply left behind, and Israeli society no longer has the privilege of observing from the sidelines and not doing anything."

Today there are quite a number of social programs for the elderly population in Israel, which include social clubs, senior citizens' centers, supportive communities, enrichment activities and groups to promote health in different areas, and home visits by volunteers to elderly people who have disabilities or are housebound.

But it isn't clear what their effect is on the target population. Nor are these programs designed directly to prevent loneliness, and they don't include ways of measuring the results of intervention in terms of reducing loneliness.