I once knew a man who died of loneliness. I'm not kidding. He was a college professor and renting the basement apartment of my grandparent's home. One day he didn't show up for class and didn't answer repeated phone calls and you can imagine the rest. To my very practical grandmother, it made complete sense that he died of loneliness. His heart failed because it was not connected to others and that was all the medical explanation she needed. I felt they must have been hiding something from me. But it turns out they were telling the truth, and today there's a range of research validating this hypothesis.
In a recent article in Slate, Jessica Olien consolidates some of this recent research. She shares, " The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity." Even worse is the finding that loneliness has doubled in the last 30 years, now reported by 40% of Americans as opposed to 20% in 1980.
In the multi-housing industry we've long known that loneliness abounds on our properties. But we've also experienced the frustration of lame pool parties and poorly attended socials. So what can we do to address this very real need?
Here are just a couple of suggestions:
First, it's important to note that loneliness can paralyze sufferers. This means that the very people who need to socialize are often less likely to attend an event if they fear they'll just have more empty conversations or awkward silences. One way to decrease this fear is with a personal invitation from someone who will be there and who they trust will initiate interaction with them.
Second, use social media to connect residents together in affinity groups. While research shows that Facebook "friends" are not an effective substitute for actual human connection, it also confirms that couples who meet online have greater longevity than those who don't. If used properly, the internet can help connect people on your property who already have something in common.
What are you doing to help your residents connect? We'd love to hear about it!