In 2018, Great Britain made history by appointing a Minister of Loneliness. The objective for the role was to study how the effects of chronic loneliness effect the 7.1% percent of British citizens who suffer from it and how to reduce those numbers.
The United States faces its own battle against the same issue. In America an epidemic of loneliness is an “under-appreciated public health crisis,” according to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, almost 50% of adults in the United States reported measurable levels of loneliness.
Studies have shown that the condition can affect mental and physical health, with heightened risks for catching a cold, having a stroke or heart disease, slipping into early cognitive decline, and developing depression.
Loneliness and Social Isolation Among Older Americans
Isolation and loneliness are different experiences. There are many people who are socially isolated who don’t experience loneliness. Likewise, there are also many people who experience loneliness despite being surrounded with others, including friends and family.
So, which causes health problems, especially as we age: social isolation or loneliness?
As it turns out, both.
Even for those who prefer solitude and have a more introverted personality, interaction with others turns out to help keep our minds and bodies more active and engaged and helps ward off depression and loneliness.
Although technology is no substitute for our need for more face-to-face contact with others, it can serve an important role to bridge the gap and help find likeminded people.
- Find People with Similar Interests
No matter how obscure or specialized the subject, from the best diners along Route 66 to Big Band Jazz, online social media is filled with active and enthusiastic communities. Some may be local to you and have in-person meet-ups and others may hold regularly scheduled online video discussions through Skype or Zoom.
Finding those with similar experiences and interests can help you form bonds that grow into real-world friendships. That’s important: one survey found that 46% of those who become personal friends with “online acquaintances” are less likely to be lonely than those who maintain online-only relationships.
- Convenient Rides Help More Social Activities
One reason for social isolation among older Americans is their inability or concern to drive at night or in heavy traffic. Apps like Uber and Lyft can be a game-changer, helping people to get out and socialize with friends.
- Play Online Games
One of the best ways to keep the aging brain nimble and active is to play games. Online games like Words with Friends (a game much very similar to Scrabble) let people play in real time with friends gathered from social media and their phone contacts. Many of these games include built-in chat functions, so the experience of online game play can feel more like sitting across the table from each other, with opportunities for crosstalk, off-topic banter, and “real” conversation between turns.
- Virtual Education and Clubs
Virtual book clubs, movie clubs, spirituality and religious groups, and even world-class education courses can be delivered over phones, tablets, or internet-connected televisions. Related discussion groups can provide structured activities that help build relationships.
Finally, take heart. Making new friends may seem daunting, but studies reveal that adults only need to spend approximately 90 minutes in each other’s presence to become friends, while close friendships seem to form over a course of about 200 hours.
Another excellent source to meet like-minded people and potential friends is through your very own association. Everything from association meetings to volunteering opportunities to group travel. There’s no reason to go it alone. Join the group!