That’s a question that Elvis Pressley made famous when he recorded the hit song by that name in 1960. Elvis was not the first to make that query, even in those exact words. The lyrics of the record, which launched Pressley’s rise to a new level of popularity, actually dated back to 1926. For years –even decades – other artists were releasing their own renditions of the question, and in 2008 Billboard charted it as number 81 among its top 100 songs of all time.
Today a similar question seems to be posed frequently, although in a slightly different vernacular. “Are you ‘lonely’” researchers, pollsters and social scientists want to know. The predictable answer is “yes”; many of us are and have been lonely. And for years the widespread assumption has been that older individuals, and particularly Baby Boomers, are the most likely age group to fall into that category.
Major media outlets unwittingly perpetuate the myth (yes, it can fairly and accurately be characterized as such) by frequently posting photographs of the elderly standing alone staring vacantly out of closed windows as ways to enhance the impact of the text. Such visuals are moving but they don’t tell the full, or entirely factual, story.
An article by Noreena Hertz that appeared in this week’s Washington Post set the record straight by citing factual evidence to dispel the notion that seniors are “the loneliest generation.” Her data clearly demonstrate what good common sense should have told us all along. Loneliness can occur at any age – and it does. The “surprise” that Hertz’s data revealed was that, while loneliness is indeed widespread across all age cohorts, it is the young, not the old, who are the loneliest.
Don’t misunderstand. We at the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger know from decades of work in the field that many of our nation’s elderly are lonely. We continue to salute, commend and support those entities and organizations – like senior nutrition programs – that contribute in positive and critical ways to keeping loneliness among America’s elders at bay.
But now it is time to dismiss the unfortunate stereotype and acknowledge the truth that we should have known all along. After all, Elvis was only 25 years old when he asked that unforgettable question in song. And when he did, he was not addressing his grandmother.