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Combating Loneliness in Aging – It Takes A Community

Combating Loneliness in Aging – It Takes A Community

By Susan Williams

You know things must be bad when they assign a government minister to tackle the problem.

And that’s exactly what they did in the UK recently. They appointed a Minister for Loneliness in their government.

The reason they did this is because a British commission found that nearly nine million people in the country either often, or always, feel loneliness.

Loneliness is a major health issue.

Loneliness has been linked to higher risks for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other health issues. It has even been referred to as being the “new smoking” and could be as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness has even been cited as being a bigger risk to longevity than obesity is.

The following video from Time outlines the background and details of this new government position.

But as dangerous as loneliness can be for anyone, the situation is even worse for older people.

In an article published in The Guardian, they shared;

According to the charity Age UK, half a million people over the age of 60 usually spend each day in complete solitude, and nearly half a million more tend not to see or speak to anyone for at least five days in any given week. Half of all people aged 75 or over live alone, 70% of them women.

But if you think that loneliness is just a problem in the UK, it’s not.

Loneliness is also a major North American issue too.

In a post┬átitled The power and prevalence of loneliness published on the Harvard Health Publishing website, they shared that “loneliness affects 25% – 60%” of older Americans” and the CBC reported that “as many as 1.4 million elderly Canadians report feeling lonely“.

So, what can we do?

There’s an old saying “It takes a village to raise a child. Well, I think that this saying should also be extended to the elderly.

“It takes a community to care for an elder”.

Loneliness is defined as; being without company, cut off from others, not frequented by human beings, producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation.

As humans, we are built for social interaction.

One of the best ways to combat the feelings of loneliness is to stay active and engaged with other people. This is where I think the community comes in.

With loneliness being a major health issue that is only going to potentially escalate with the increasing numbers of people aging, communities need to play an active role in integrating older people into the life and support of the community.

Here’s a great example of what I’m suggesting.

In Sardinia, Italy they have some of the highest rates of longevity along with very low levels of depression. As much as food and exercise contributes – the sense of community and lack of isolation is also now being attributed to this situation.

In the following CNN video, they profile some of the residents as they live their life.

As you watch the video, take note on how integrated the elderly are in the day to day activities of the city’s life. The streets, the cafes – the elderly are there as part of the community.

They are not living isolated in homes or only involved in programs for old people. They are active participants taking part of the daily life and routine of the community.

So I think before we start building programs to combat loneliness for aging, we need to ensure that the communities are actively involved.

Watching out and caring for each other used to be part of the backbone of any community. Maybe now is the time we need to go back to that in order to help save our future.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.
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