31% of Americans report feeling lonely at least once a week, and in Great Britain, the issue is such a concern that a new Minister for Loneliness has been appointed. Astonishingly enough, 200,000 British seniors report they haven’t had a single conversation with a friend or a relative in more than a month!
Loneliness is a major health risk which can lead to a host of serious issues, including:
Less active immune system
Higher blood pressure
Prior to her tragic murder in 2016, Member of Parliament Jo Cox passionately pursued what she saw as an epidemic of social isolation and loneliness. After her death, the Jo Cox Commission was set up, and in 2017 the group published a Call to Action. Chief among their recommendations are: National recognition in the area of loneliness; measurable progress in combatting loneliness; and catalyzing action (real world action).
In response to these recommendations, on January 17, 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Tracey Crouch, currently Britain’s Minister for Sport and Civil Society, to take on the added responsibilities as the Minister for Loneliness.
Ms. Crouch posted the following in response to the announcement:
“…today the Prime Minister announced that not only did she and Government welcome the recommendations of the Report but that there would be the immediate implementation of some including appointing a new lead minister (me) and the delivery of a cross government strategy to combat loneliness…
The truth is that because there is not a single problem - it is one that affects all age groups, people with disabilities and those without, new mums, refugees, those with close family networks, those without etc - there is not one single or simple solution. So my challenge, which is phenomenal, is to co-ordinate a strategy, one that crosses government, business, charities and many other partners and one that lasts a generation.”
In the United States, the issue of loneliness and isolation is being researched and addressed by LifeBio. Oral history projects and other intergenerational experiences are happening as a result using the power of life stories in senior living and health care settings such as hospice and nursing homes. Recent studies conducted in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealthcare, utilizing reminiscence therapy and life review, have proven that loneliness can be lessened through the use of LifeBio’s tools which promote social engagement. Two scores that have been shown to be positively impacted are measurements of happiness and life satisfaction, and an improved sense of overall wellbeing following life review. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic has further reported initial results that even show improvement in mood for people with dementia.
Parallel to the recommendations made by the Jo Cox Commission, LifeBio has worked extensively to bring attention to the issue of loneliness on a national level. A feature article in USA Today (July, 2017) highlighted the work LifeBio has done to utilize reminiscence therapy with older adults to alleviate feelings of loneliness. In addition to the findings from on-going studies with UnitedHealthcare that point to truly legitimate, measurable progress in decreasing perceived feelings of loneliness among participants, new research relationships with The State of Ohio are currently underway.
Translated into real world action, LifeBio works with staff, family members, and volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life in a wide variety of situations. From in-home interventions (including one-on-one interviews and leader led “town hall” style calls) to large-scale ongoing activities conducted in senior living communities, LifeBio techniques are easily accessible and user friendly enough for individuals to utilize for themselves, or with a family member or person in their care.
Recognizing that loneliness is a multi-pronged issue that will take an equal number of innovative solutions is step one in combatting this culture of isolation. Human beings are inherently social creatures. For thousands of years, people from diverse cultures around the world have passed on their traditions, beliefs, and advice through the telling of stories and the sharing of life histories. Reminiscence therapy is a proven tool that can be used and accessed by everyone. Both the persons sharing as well as those who are engaged in active listening benefit from this process. So much so, in fact, that LifeBio is moving the needle on loneliness – one life story at a time.
Bethany Zellner is a staff writer and the Project Coordinator for LifeBio. Prior to joining the LifeBio Team, Bethany’s experience has included working as a Territory Supervisor and Trainer for Hallmark Mass Service Operations, and Project Manager for the Ohio Physical Therapy Association. She attended Miami University, where she earned degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing