Sunday, January 24, 2016

Boredom as a Health Hazard/Uber as a Cure!

A recent New York Times article featured a photo of Carol Sue Johnson, 73, in her rear view mirror, setting out as a Uber driver. Apparently, an increasing number of older folks are doing gigs for Uber and Lyft.

The main reason is to supplement their income and savings. The average retirement savings for Americans in their 60s is under $200,000. Extra income isn't just for luxuries. And driving for Uber or Lyft is self-scheduled, with no financial penalty for doing a smaller number of hours, appealing features for drivers of all ages. 

But what impressed me most in the New York Times article, and another piece in Time, is how often the older drivers cited the human interest provided by meeting passengers. This makes sense. When I'm in a taxi I often ask drivers about their experience hearing about life's troubles from their passengers. I not infrequently end up telling them that I'm a psychiatrist and that, in a way, they are too. 

Musing on this topic got me thinking about the phrase "bored to death." A search of medical literature led me to a 2010 publication - "Bored to Death" - that reported on the famous Whitehall study of British civil servants. Those who reported higher levels of boredom had poorer health and increased risk of death in subsequent years. The authors speculated that boredom "is almost certainly a proxy for other risk factors." These could include social isolation, poor eating habits, and increased use of alcohol. 

In short, the familiar cliche - "bored to death" - has literal as well as metaphoric truth!

Carol Sue Johnson and the cohort of older Uber/Lyft drivers may well be improving their health by the dual mechanisms of improving their finances and diminishing the risk of boredom.

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