We are apparently living in a loneliness epidemic. Over the past 80 years our culture has changed a lot and over the past 30 years industrialized nations may have lost our cultural bearing.
I learn recently of a lady in Japan who died and only after her corps smelled terrible did the neighbors realize that she had passed. In Japan they have a word for “dying alone,” they call it Kodokushi. Several hundred thousand people pass away, without a relative or friend who cares about them. I thought it was terrible and I was shocked that a nation of over 100 Million people would not care for their families or neighbors. Then I found out that over 45 Million people in quasi “First World Nations” are lonely. That doesn’t sound very “first world.” It is embarrassing and a sign we need to rethink our lives.
Recently I joined the marketing effort of Vigilint Biosensors, a company that has designed affordable smart watches that allow parents to check in on and communicate with their children and loved ones. The Vigilint Family Assistant is an app that you can download that links to the kids or elderly parents Vigilint Smartwatches. When I started reading up on the topic I couldn’t believe it. OMG. It is a world wide epidemic. Apparently over 40% of people in the US report that they are feeling lonely. And experts think that the actual number is higher. How can that be?
Loneliness is deadly. Literally. First of all it doesn’t feel very nice. Remember how you felt when your first girl friend or boy friend didn’t call you back for several hours, when you first started dating and you were not sure whether they really loved you yet? That feeling. It feels like that. Most unhealthy.
Apparently it is genuinely unhealthy to feel lonely. Vivek Murty, who served as the 19th Surgeon General in the US, shared that one of his more shocking experiences as SG was loneliness: “I met middle and high school students in urban and rural areas who turned to violence, drugs, and gangs to ease the pain of their loneliness. I sat with mothers and fathers who had lost sons and daughters to drug overdoses and were struggling to cope alone because of the unfortunate stigma surrounding addiction.” He went on to say: “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness. The elderly man who came to our hospital every few weeks seeking relief from chronic pain was also looking for human connection: He was lonely. The middle-aged woman battling advanced HIV who had no one to call to inform that she was sick: She was lonely too. I found that loneliness was often in the background of clinical illness, contributing to disease and making it harder for patients to cope and heal. ” (1)
Vigilint Biosensors has been created by a bunch of highly successful Silicon Valley Semiconductor engineers, who created microchips for mobile phones that measure vital signs. Is the person moving, is the person where they are supposed to be? It also allows you to talk to them through their affordable VB wrist watch. They will not lose their phone, since it is tied around their wrist. Brilliant I say!
And apparently it not only reduces the stress of the parent, it also reduces the stress in the kids and the elderlies. Social connections are so vital to our health. Apparently stress increases the cortisol level which is some kind of hormone in our bodies. Loneliness increases the stress hormone called cortisol very much. This causes inflammation which according to Time Magazine is responsible for stress-related difficulties including obesity, diabetes, metabolic disorders, heart diseases and other disorders. (2)
So this weekend, hug your mom, your grandmother, your dad and your kids, and make sure you check in with your neighbors. Apparently for young and old loneliness is an epidemic and nearly every second person feels lonely. Smile, say hello and ask: “How do you do.” And mean it. Increasing your social circle may be the best medicine against: “Kodokushi.” And I am sure you agree, none of us want to have that.
Instead talk with your family regularly. Even if they are all grown, talk at least once a week, but more often if possible that is the only way you have enough time for a genuine relationship. Only regular contact let’s you know what is going on in their lives and for them to know what is going on in yours. Bob Black once wrote a great tagline: “Reach out and touch someone.” If you can’t do it physically, do with via a text and even better a conversation.
There are plenty of people to call. The New York times claimed that about one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone, and half of those over 85 do. Loneliness can be fixed. We need to reintroduce the concept of TLC and talk to each other. I love the quote that Vigilint Biosensors execs use:
Vigilint Biosensors is about moving people from the Internet of Things to the Internet of Caring.
Love that! Happy trails and if you feel lonely reach out. Call someone you haven’t talk with in a while. Remind them of the good times you had. You will be surprised how happy it will make them to get your call after all these years. Tell them you remember them and you feel good about your memories. It works.