May 5, 2023

Loneliness and Isolation…A NEW Health Crisis?

By Kathy Hagen,
Interim CEO, The Eden Alternative®
The news from US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warns* that loneliness and isolation is a NEW health crisis, affecting people of all ages, especially children. While it may be a “new” crisis for some people today, it has long been a crisis for the aging population, especially those in long-term care. Exposing loneliness has been the focus of The Eden Alternative since its inception. Our vision, “To eliminate loneliness, helplessness, and boredom”, has driven our pursuit of person-directed relationship-centered care for 30 years.

“Loneliness is not a source of shame.” Dr. Murthy states. “It’s like hunger or thirst. A signal that our body sends us, that we need something for our survival, and that is social connection... When we have people around us that care about us, we can deal with a fair amount of adversity in our lives.”

The Ten Principles of The Eden Alternative® are foundational for culture change and provide structure around addressing loneliness. Principle One states, “Loneliness, helplessness, and boredom are painful and destructive to our health and well-being.” Principle Three states, “We thrive when we have easy access to the companionship we desire. This is the antidote to loneliness.”

As we work with people partnering in care, our focus might benefit by building relationships with each other; between care partners; among staff members; between staff; residents; family members; and between residents and other residents. These relationships could then serve as a catalyst for citizen-based community building.

The Keys
The Eden Alternative Domains of Well-Being® are keys to unlocking well-being and reducing loneliness and isolation. They are Identity, Security, Connectedness, Autonomy, Meaning, Growth, and Joy. Consider how full these cups are in your life. How do you fill them up? Can you help others fill theirs?
Being well-known to others and knowing others well not only creates connectedness, but it also improves both mental and physical health. This is what is meant by identity. Who am I to myself and to others? Who are my neighbors, my coworkers? How do we work together to know one another deeply? What does it mean to know someone deeply?

Safety is a fundamental need for well-being. Protecting our dignity and the dignity of others builds trust and security. Living in an environment of trust, where it is safe to be ourselves, staves off loneliness.
Connecting with just one other person can foster a sense of belonging and security. Being connected to other humans is vital to our survival. If you don’t feel connected to others, consider how you might find connection. Perhaps someone you know does not have social connections. Start small by getting to know them. Find something that connects the two of you. Connection saves lives. Helping others can be a powerful path to building connection and eliminating loneliness.
While autonomy is associated with independence, it is also related to interdependence. For those that need support, maintaining as much autonomy as possible is essential to avoiding learned helplessness. When people feel useful and can make their own decisions, they become empowered and able to excel. The more the focus is on strengths, what people can do rather than what they can’t do, the more the muscles of autonomy and growth are strengthened.

Change is inevitable. No matter our age or ability, we all grow and change every day. Growth fosters joy. People thrive on growth, as it can elicit learning, variety, and spontaneity.

When life has no meaning or purpose, energy can wane. Energy can come from meaning, traditions, gratitude, and life-affirming work. How do you feel when you do meaningless work? Do you feel tired, lethargic, slow? How does meaningful work support you? Consider sharing with others to increase meaning in your life.

What are moments of joy for you? What does living a joy-filled life mean? Joy can be a special kind of happiness that transcends everyday life. Joy can come from within and fill life with unbounded love, connection, gratitude, and peace.
Those that have leveraged the Eden Approach understand the difference its antidotes can make. The Ten Principles of the Eden Alternative® and the Eden Alternative Domains of Well-Being® were designed to work together to eliminate loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. They are for people living in care communities and for all people, regardless of age, ability, or where they call home. Every person can benefit from learning how these concepts can impact their life and the lives of those around them.
US Surgeon General Murthy is calling out this loneliness crisis now because of the current climate of social isolation caused by the pandemic, social media, and technology. Reach out and find someone to connect with and help each other be the drivers of communities of connectedness.
For a copy of the Eden Alternative Domains of Well-Being® Whitepaper click here.
*To see Surgeon General Vivek Murthy's comments, click here.