Global Loneliness Awareness Week Highlights Importance of Social Connection

Cartoon style drawing of different people engaging in different activities together and the words Random Acts of Connection.

As we age, it can be harder to make connections with those around us. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, over one-third of adults 45 and older across the country report feeling lonely, and nearly a quarter of adults 65 and older are considered socially isolated.

June 10 – 14 is Global Loneliness Awareness Week, a chance to highlight the importance of social connection in our lives. The theme for this year’s Global Loneliness Awareness Week is “Random Acts of Connection,” encouraging everyone to engage in simple, everyday moments that help everyone feel happier and less lonely. This could be anything from baking a cake for your neighbor, to volunteering at a local event, to even just smiling at someone on the sidewalk.

To help get the word out about Global Loneliness Awareness Week, the Wisconsin Coalition for Social Connection (WCSC) has launched a new website that highlights how social isolation can affect our lives and outlines ways we can create meaningful connections in our communities. One way is to simply schedule an activity with a friend. You can take a walk in the park, meet at a restaurant for lunch or go to a movie. If you are unable to leave your house or live in a rural area lacking good transit options, you can schedule regular phone calls and video chats with friends and family to stay connected. You can also play games with them online. There may be opportunities to gather online with folks who have shared interests, like knitting, gardening or music.

The issue of loneliness is more pronounced for people with disabilities. According to the University of Michigan, 40% of adults with debilitating disabilities or chronic conditions nationwide report feeling lonely or socially isolated. Loneliness can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. Loneliness and social isolation have been linked to a greater risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, depression and anxiety, obesity and dementia. They can even increase risk of death.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has found that around 15% of adults with a disability across the state say they rarely or never get the social and emotional support they need, compared to around 7% of all adults. Findings from VisionServe Alliance’s Big Data Project underscore the toll this takes on health. In Wisconsin, nearly 55% of older adults with vision loss report fair or poor health, compared to 19.5% of older adults without vision loss.

“We know that people with vision loss are up to three times more likely to experience depression than are our sighted peers,” WCBVI Executive Director Denise Jess says. “Lack of transportation options to get out and about, low employment rates and poor health further compound the feeling of loneliness.”

When you lose your vision, especially later in life, it can be easy to feel isolated from your community. You may feel like you can no longer do the hobbies you once loved, or no longer feel safe getting around town. It is important to remember that with the right adaptations and training, almost anything that can be done with full vision can be done with vision loss. The Council can help guide you toward the skills and resources to live a fulfilling life that includes plenty of social interaction. Your local Aging and Disability Resource Center is another great source of information to help you stay connected.

Whether you live in a bigger city or in a rural area, there are often free events taking place for like-minded people to meet and connect. Community bulletin boards, your public library, local governments, and other resources may have information on new events and groups that meet regularly in your community. You can also usually find community calendars online through your local municipal government, library, newspaper or radio station website.

Helping people remain active in their community is a key part of the Council’s mission. “Peer support and developing daily living, mobility and access technology skills help reduce feelings of isolation by empowering people to engage in their favorite activities with family and friends,” Denise says. “Our advocacy for transportation equity strives to create opportunities for people to participate fully in their communities and go to work.”

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