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Social isolation and loneliness are on the rise in the U.S., according to recent research, and the health consequences are severe.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad

“We have robust data that lacking social connections predicts a significant risk for premature mortality,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University who has testified before Congress on the loneliness epidemic. “It carries a similar risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

Seniors are particularly vulnerable, even those who reside in senior living communities alongside their peers, said Janet Morrison, chief executive of Independent Age and a founding member of the U.K.-based Campaign to End Loneliness.

Janet Morrison

Holt-Lunstad and Morrison will discuss this topic in a presentation entitled, “Why Social Isolation and Loneliness Matters and What Can Be Done About It” at Argentum’s Senior Living Executive Conference in May. Ahead of their talk, the two experts shared key ways senior living providers can help their residents combat loneliness.

1. A welcoming atmosphere

Moving into a new environment is daunting. “Other residents may seem more settled and established in their friendships and that can feel excluding,” Morrison said. A solution is to devise immediate social connections, such as an assigned companion or support group, to help new arrivals with the transition, Morrison said.

2. Keep the “convoy”

Morrison said it is crucial that senior living residents stay connected to their “convoy” of family and friends, who serve as “anchors to their past life and help them maintain their confidence and resilience.”

Holt-Lunstad said providers should be aware of any practices that risk weakening residents’ ties to family and friends and seek ways to integrate the convoy’s involvement into a resident’s experience.

3. Creative programming

A lively schedule of activities and events organically inspires bonding in a fun, absorbing way.

“Shared participation in creative activities, health and fitness, and learning new skills can help build relationships and friendships,” Morrison said.

4. Finding a niche

Holt-Lunstad noted that “just because someone is around others doesn’t mean they aren’t lonely.” In fact, negative relationships can heighten loneliness. Morrison said residents need the freedom and support to direct their own experiences and find their niche so they don’t feel stuck in ill-fitting relationships and experiences.

“The biggest mistake that providers can make is imagining that one size fits all and not recognizing the diversity of residents’ cultural heritage, interests, and tastes,” Morrison said.

5. Access to support

Seniors frequently contend with the loss of partners and friends, increasing the risk of loneliness.

“Those experiencing bereavement may need access to comfort and support, talking therapies, or counseling, and may be more vulnerable to anxiety, stress, or depression,” Morrison said.

Register for the 2018 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference

Join us May 14-16, 2018 in San Diego to learn more from Holt-Lunstad and Morrison on how you can help your residents combat isolation.

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