According to researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University, loneliness has a greater impact on health than smoking 15 cigarettes daily, or obesity, which is associated with 300,000 to 600,000 deaths a year in the United States alone.
In England, the “loneliness epidemic” has reached such proportions that they’ve appointed a Minister for Loneliness to address the problem.
This idea led me to consider the benefits of designating such a position in long-term care. Yes, we have recreation departments that encourage resident socialization, but a Minister for Loneliness could do so much more. The Minister also could target staff loneliness and the isolation of those in the community.
Minimizing staff loneliness has the potential to reduce turnover, alleviate staff stress and improve the culture of the organization. Seeking to decrease the isolation of those in the neighborhood would enhance the reputation of the facility as a community player and create a way for locals to connect with the home before they need it, so that it becomes a natural choice for later care.
Below are some ideas of ways in which the Minister for Loneliness could affect change (but there doesn’t need to be a formal role to try these suggestions).
For residents and their families, the minister could:
- Establish a communal table for residents interested in engaging with peers for a particular meal.
- Ensure that residents who needed hearing aids and other assistive devices had fully functioning equipment available.
- Train staff to facilitate like-minded friendships between residents, seating them together at meals and during activities.