Chronic loneliness is a growing problem that can be as harmful for seniors as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can lead to higher rates of chronic disease, depression, dementia and death.
But all of that can be combated with a little bit of caring, sharing and love.
This pound class is saving lives.
“I went days without seeing people. I mostly talked to a cat,” Ann Simons said.
Snippi Jackson, dementia client, “I have issues with my memory.” Like one in three seniors, most of these people at the Seniors Resource Center had little to look forward to.
“Just sittin’ around, getting older,” Paul Reedy said.
But that type of isolation can really have an impact.
“So many people who just don’t have a human connection,” Juliet Kirwan Carr, author & Mental Health expert, said.
And loneliness not only impacts a person’s mental well-being, but their physical health: stress hormones go up, it can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system and increase the risk for vascular problems, inflammation and heart disease. But a little connection can change all that.
“It’s 15 minutes and it’s face to face,” Carr said.
That means, if you know someone who is lonely talk to them. More importantly: listen to them. “Being able to validate and say that they are valued,” she said.
Plan at least two days, if only for a few hours, out of the house, find a senior center, enroll in community college classes. Most offer courses free for seniors, volunteer, walk places if you can and say hello to everyone you pass.
Make it a point to call someone each day.
“God knows it has just done so much for me,” Simmons said.
Communities around the world are taking steps to combat loneliness. Towns in England have installed chat benches. If you need to talk, just stop and take a break and start a conversation. And in Africa, they have friendship benches, where grandmothers are being trained by health professionals to sit and talk to help anyone who needs it.