Most of us gray hairs are aware of the big healthcare costs we face in our later years. Not counting long-term care, and after Medicare, this year’s number is $280,000 per couple.

Most of us are also aware that few of us have the resources to meet that obligation.

But new research by AARP reports that as much as 59% of the decline in both physical and mental health that happens in retirement is due to one factor, and it is somewhat controllable…

Loneliness.

An AARP study reported that 35% of adults older than 45 are lonely. And that condition is responsible for a 45% increase in risk of death, the development of brain biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s and an increased need for long-term care.

The isolation that leads to loneliness not only takes too many of us too soon but also is the major contributor to the healthcare costs that bankrupt many retirees.

But it doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

Taking daily microsteps to correct the conditions that lead to isolation can make a difference. The first step is to recognize that you are lonely and want more friends and greater contact with friends and family.

Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, and it gives us a schedule and a reason to get out of the house.

Just knowing you have to be somewhere and that someone is expecting you is big leg up.

Shift your focus from your feelings to others’ feelings. That’s more easily said than done, but it can start with as little as asking, “How are you doing? How’s the family?”

Then listen.

Technology has given us a huge communication boost, and it can be a big counter-loneliness factor. If you haven’t started looking up your old friends from high school on Facebook, you’re missing a lot of fun. It’s amazing how much they haven’t changed.

Texting is also a great way to stay in touch, and it’s usually included in your monthly bill. It can make checking in and planning get-togethers a breeze. And it doesn’t take more than a few seconds to make a connection that could turn the loneliness around.

If you haven’t taken the texting plunge, believe me, it’s a breeze. Stop by your phone store and have one of the millennials who works there give you a walk-through.

And don’t forget classes. Education in our later years is so much more enjoyable when you don’t have to worry about grades. It is what our professors said it should have been way back when.

There’s no guarantee that getting out there and being around people will reduce your healthcare costs down the road. But it’s so much more fun and healthier to be in touch.

Make the effort and turn the blues into communication.

Good investing,

Steve