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Research: Loneliness a Public Health Problem

The American Psychological Association suggests that doctors need to be encouraged to include social connectedness in medical screening. (Anja/Pixabay)
The American Psychological Association suggests that doctors need to be encouraged to include social connectedness in medical screening. (Anja/Pixabay)
August 11, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa – Loneliness and social isolation are growing problems in Iowa and across the United States. That's what a growing body of research from psychologists to caregivers and experts in senior care is indicating.

According to AARP, more than 43 million adults in the country age 45 and older are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness, which not only reduces quality of life but increases the risk of premature death.

Anthony Carroll, the AARP Iowa Associate State Director of Advocacy says they're increasingly teaching technology classes for people who don't have the ability to regularly leave their homes.

"Family members are using Google Hangouts, Facetime, Skype, those ways to connect with loved ones across the state, across the country," he says.

At a recent conference of the American Psychological Association, loneliness was described as a public health threat that will only increase with an aging population. Carroll says they're not only looking at short-term solutions to the problem, they're envisioning a future in which self-driving cars can address mobility issues for those seeking to get out of their homes and interact with their communities.

He also says transportation is particularly an issue in rural Iowa.

AARP is paying special attention to the needs of caregivers who provide vital services to seniors who would otherwise be isolated. At the Iowa State Fair, AARP is demonstrating ways communities can support often-exhausted caregivers.

"Having family caregivers more equipped not only to provide the care that they're providing for older Iowans is a key piece of it but, frankly, helping caregivers take time for themselves and prepare to be their best, if you will," he adds.

Carroll says city and community planners also play a vital role in creating facilities and activities that bring people together to share common interests and even just conversation.

Kevin Patrick Allen, Public News Service - IA