As more is understood about how social isolation and loneliness affects overall well-being, more health care practitioners are recommending that patients who spend a lot of time alone join in activities that will help them connect with their community. According to a recent CBC report, the practice has even been given a name, “social prescribing” can help combat loneliness, improve quality of life and reduce visits to emergency rooms and doctor offices.
One such approach that solves both housing and companionship needs is being tested by graduate students from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The co-housing project Symbiosis connects students who need safe and affordable housing with seniors living alone who could use more social interaction. In return for a reduced rent, university students become a live-in companion for an older adult, giving family and other loved-ones peace of mind while providing social interaction, and perhaps a little help around the house. The inter-generational relationships that develop can often become quite close and mutually enriching.
In the United Kingdom, doctors are employing social prescribing experts to help isolated patients find activities in the community they will enjoy and which will help them connect with others. And in Quebec, Canada, doctors are prescribing visits to the Museum of Fine Arts for patients and caregivers who could benefit from the outing and the community interaction.
Research from Brigham Young University, published in 2015, found that loneliness and social isolation are as much a threat to health and longevity as obesity, smoking or being an alcoholic. And because many seniors live alone and no longer go to work each day, making an effort to connect with others through volunteer work or other activities is important for older adults.
Learn more about the epidemic of loneliness among the elderly by following this link to the Aspen Ideas Festival website.