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To fight loneliness, let's get innovative


There's a unique program at Judson Manor, a retirement community in Cleveland, Ohio, where several college graduate students live amid the senior residents. Room and board for the students is free, and in exchange, they perform concerts and recitals.


The relationship seems to be a successful one. In addition to the complimentary accommodations for the students, they also share art lessons and often eat together. Along with friendship and companionship, they might share tips on everything from relationships to technology. For the seniors, especially, it's turned out to be a way to fight loneliness.


And loneliness is a big deal. According to the American Psychological Association, loneliness and social isolation could be a greater threat to public health than obesity.


Those who live alone or have few social contacts are at risk for a premature death, especially if they're under the age of 65. (Photo: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock)

More than one-third of adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s Loneliness Study. Being lonely, according to the study, often goes hand in hand with poor health. Those who rated their health as "excellent" were over half as likely (55 percent versus 25 percent) to be lonely than those who rated their health as "poor."


In two meta-analyses, researchers found that loneliness can increase the risk of early death.


Researchers are investigating a medical way to combat the epidemic with a "loneliness pill." They're investigating whether the hormone pregnenolone might reduce the fear that keeps lonely people from connecting with others and cause them to keep withdrawing.


Meanwhile, some individuals are creating their own less-scientific solutions to combat loneliness. In London, 27-year-old student Alexandra Knox moved in with 95-year-old widow Florence Smith, reports the Daily Mail. Knox pays $277 a month to room with the Royal Air Force veteran.


Smith signed up with a roommate-matching service to avoid feeling lonely. They share chores, watch TV together and sometimes share takeout meals.


This is just one part of a greater push to solve the problem in the U.K..


Then-Prime Minister Teresa May created the first "minister for loneliness" and in October launched the government's first loneliness strategy. Loneliness is believed to affect 9 million people in the U.K.


Under the plan, general practitioners will be able to refer patients suffering from loneliness to community activities and voluntary services by 2023. May's strategy also focuses on how loneliness can be addressed in different sectors:


Embedding loneliness into relationship education classes so children in primary and secondary schools can learn about loneliness and the value of social relationships.


Pilot projects to support flexible and inclusive volunteering for people such as those with long-term health conditions, which will be rolled out in up to five pilot areas in England.


Meeting with tech companies to discuss loneliness.


"Loneliness is a reality for too many people in our society today… it can affect anyone of any age and background," said May in the press release. "This strategy is only the beginning of delivering a long and far reaching social change in our country - but it is a vital first step in a national mission to end loneliness in our lifetimes."


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