Social isolation is a growing concern – since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they are lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. New research suggests that social separation is unhealthy and can have dire physical, mental, and emotional consequences. Those with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation, and higher levels of stress hormones. New studies have also shown that the risk of heart disease is increased by 29 percent, the risk of stroke by 32 percent, and the risk of dying in the next 7 years is also increased by 30 percent.
An article in The New York Times looks at social isolation saying the evidence is clear, but what to do about it is less obvious. One idea is structured programs, some of which are beginning to arise like the program linkAges, described as a cross-generational service exchange. Dr. Paul Tang of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation started this program, “In America, you almost need an excuse for knocking on a neighbor’s door,” Dr. Tang told The New York Times. “We want to break down those barriers.” In our “hyper-connected digital age” where it is becoming easier to drift apart, programs like Dr. Tang’s are even more important. From the article:
Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being. It’s up to all of us — doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities — to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed.