Efforts to Eradicate Loneliness during the Pandemic and Beyond

Even in normal times, many residents in our settings, are lonely – lonely for one to one connection and relationships, lonely for conversation beyond our settings, lonely for opportunities to share their life experiences, lonely.

Family and staff work to fill much of this need but with COVID-19 visitation restrictions for family and friends—and staff stretched with additional clinical obligations leaving less time for one to one conversations—the loneliness challenge has grown.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic upended social interaction, loneliness was a serious issue for older adults. According to a 2019 report from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, 43 percent of seniors report feeling lonely on a regular basis, and 20 percent of all Americans say they feel socially isolated.

Intergenerational connections utilizing new technologies provide opportunities to benefit both older and younger participants, and to combat the loneliness so often present for individuals in our society. Opportunities are only limited by our own creativity. Partnering with schools (especially with distance learning underway and technology more present in most households), scout troops, churches or community groups, provide ample opportunities for meaningful connections. To spark our thinking, our Argentum partner shared this example from Harvard University. 

The Concordium is a nonprofit videoconferencing platform founded by Harvard University students, whose goal is to eradicate the "loneliness epidemic" among U.S. seniors. It matches older adults to younger adults based on shared experiences and interests, and offers a simple, Web-based framework to effect regular dialogues between participants. "We try to emphasize that this is not a platform where the young adults are there to save the older adults from social isolation, because loneliness does really occur in a u-shaped curve where younger adults and older adults are the ones who are most affected by it," said Harvard's Anagha Kumar. "It is a bi-directional relationship; both people receive a companion who they can talk to."

Kumar developed the Concordium with fellow student Prasidh Chhabria, based on their observation that social isolation tends to be worse among older adults because they lack access to technology or other means to stay connected. The program taps young adult volunteers from colleges and high schools, with outreach activities assisted by councils on aging, senior centers, nursing communities, and physician referrals. "We believe that intergenerational solutions are the best way to combat the loneliness epidemic we are seeing right now," Kumar said. "Seeing others get very interested in forming relationships with older adults and learning more about the issues that the aging population faces on a daily basis has been really inspiring."

For more information go to Harvard University John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

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