Social isolation and loneliness are grave yet under-appreciated public health risks that affect a significant portion of the older adult population. A report in “The National Academies Press” found that approximately one-quarter of community-dwelling Americans aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated, and a significant proportion of adults in the United States report feeling lonely. The report went on to say that “People who are 50 years of age or older are more likely to experience many of the risk factors that can cause or exacerbate social isolation or loneliness, such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and sensory impairments.”
An online survey from Altarum found that seniors are lonelier than ever with more than half not participating in any organized activities. This is a significant issue, so much so that the British government appointed a minister for loneliness in 2017. COVID-19 exacerbated all of this, of course, with nursing home residents experiencing increased depression, weight loss and more during the pandemic.
So, what can we do about it? The answer may lie, in part, in the power of music.
John Carpenter, founder of the world-renowned Rebecca Center for Music Therapy in New York, says that music helps stimulate communication and memory skills. Listening to live music and being involved in live music-making experiences empowers people to emerge from the isolation imposed by dementia or simply from loneliness. He has found that people who are connected in this way are less depressed, more likely to engage in other meaningful activities, and less likely to be given antipsychotic medications for their symptoms.
Another study has shown that the mental acuity of Alzheimer’s patients who regularly sang over a four-month period rose sharply. Music has also been shown to:
- Lower anxiety.
- Reduce loneliness.
- Lower agitation.
- Improve memory.
- Improve cognitive skills.
- Promote self-expression and stimulation.
- Provide cognitive stimulation.
- Provide motivation.
- Promote physical engagement.
- Improve social connections.
- Helps improve self-identity.
- Provide pleasure and enjoyment.
- Contribute to a creative outcome.
About five years ago, I acquired the technology to stream concerts live. It was a novel idea at the time, as care homes didn’t have the interest, bandwidth or technology. In the years since, I’ve partnered with students from Northeastern University to solve the real societal issue of isolation by creating the senior entertainment/education network. Our network relieves loneliness by providing livestream and pre-recorded programming to senior communities, senior centers, adult day care, hospice and home-bound adults.
Senior communities need our help. Loneliness and mental health issues loom large. For as the book “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection” points out, stress hormones from feeling socially isolated can have as serious an impact on the human body as smoking or obesity.
We believe a community of like-minded organizations and individuals can fill the void by providing all kinds of support. We believe too that our holistic, 360-degree approach is what sets our network apart from others. I am glad to be part of it. If you’re interested in helping to fight loneliness among older adults and to find out more about our senior entertainment/education network, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anthony Cirillo is a health, aging and caregiving expert and president of The Aging Experience. He is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives with a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the creator of the Caregiver Smile Summit and the senior entertainment/education network. He is also a member of the Nationwide Financial/National Council on Aging Health and Wellness Roundtable and a member of the Bank of America Elder Care Policy Roundtable.