While browsing the New York Times a few weeks ago, I came across an article that profiled the loneliness epidemic among senior populations. It left me with mixed emotions, heartened by the picture of progress it painted, yet daunted by the reminder that this problem is on an enormous scale. The article explained how the NHS, Great Britain’s government-run health care system, has begun treating loneliness among seniors as a serious public health issue. However, it also cited that among people 60 and over in the United Kingdom and the United States, estimates of loneliness can range up to 46%.
Upon further reflection, my optimism prevailed. Deeming this issue worthy of national attention and public funds is an important sign of progress in Great Britain. Programs aimed at mitigating loneliness have sprung up in dozens of cities and towns. Some fire brigades have even been trained to inspect homes not just for fire safety but for signs of social isolation. Even simple ideas, such as creating a loneliness hotline, help to build an infrastructure that truly supports elderly people in Great Britain through the challenges they face.
Here in the United Stated, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done.
Evidence linking social isolation to serious health problems is mounting. Although many prominent American Universities are among those contributing to this evidence, the public response here has been much slower than of our counterparts ‘across the pond’. The need to begin building an infrastructure of support systems is urgent, both for the seniors of today, and for the enormous population of baby-boomers who will be the next to experience the effects of these significant life transitions.
The lack of programs specifically designed to impact social engagement was the catalyst for the creation of CircleTalk. Over the last six years, we have seen the tremendous positive impact of engaging groups in meaningful conversation, reflection, connection, and ultimately, community. We have had the privilege of working with several Boulder senior residences to first pilot, then implement our full CircleTalk program. We now have several groups that have been meeting for years. The wonderful people who participate in our programs have made connections that will sustain them through the losses, changes and transitions of aging.
The optimism and pride I feel for our CircleTalk communities is sometimes followed by heavy-heartedness. There are millions of seniors in the US living in solitude, marginalized by the lack of options provided to them.
I suggest we follow the lead of Great Britain, and start treating the loneliness epidemic for what it is: a public health issue deserved of our attention and investment.
-Deborah Skovron, CircleTalk Creative Director
Source: Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness. Katie Hafner. Sept. 5th, 2016
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