LONELINESS: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. L. Spence, UF/IFAS
Situation: As we age, it’s natural for friendship connections to shrink. Considering health, mobility, and other constraints, initiating new networks is more difficult. Compounding loneliness, partners, friends, and family become infirm, die or move away. In 2012, a trailblazing study documented in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that forty-three per cent of older adult participants reported feelings of loneliness. Subsequent studies found loneliness has as strong of a negative marker on well-being as alcoholism and heavy (15 cigarettes daily) smoking. Social isolation has been connected to increased number of falls and an increased risk for dementia. Methods: This program addresses contributing factors to loneliness, telltale and not-so-telltale signs, and strategies to reduce loneliness. The first two- hour session of this two-part program is comprised of a brief lecture followed by group discussion addressing program participants’ willingness to strategize toward solutions. The second session is conducted one month after the initial lesson. At that time participants examine what they are doing in their respective communities- what is working and what is not. They brainstorm about new and innovative ways to engage the targeted clientele. The program was taught at four locations: a retirement community, an assisted living facility, a place of faith, and a public library. Results: Retro pre-test of knowledge was 60 percent and post test showed 82 percent knowledge gain. Follow-up evaluation conducted at the second session (approximately one month after first session) found 64 percent (32/50) reported an increase in social connection and 84 percent (42/50) reported an increase in satisfaction and pleasure throughout the course of a typical day. Conclusion: Healthy individuals strengthen families and community and a stronger community contributes to the health and well-being of its residents. In many ways, connecting individuals to each other helps the cycle complete itself.