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Senior Isolation Meets Creative Solution

By Anthony Cirillo January 12, 2021 Health and Fitness

I fell into a mission for older people, not through caregiving as many think (that would come later) but through singing. Tired of playing in casinos and night clubs, I went into a senior community and started singing to the residents. And I never stopped.

I was averaging 100 performances a year part time, and it changed the trajectory of my health care career. I stopped counting the number of performances long ago, but I would imagine the number is more than 3,000!

Social Isolation Among Seniors

A report in the National Academies found that: “Social isolation and loneliness are serious yet under-appreciated public health risks that affect a significant portion of the older adult population. 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. 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 of senior living residents from Altarum found that our seniors are lonelier than ever. More than half are not participating in any organized activities. Covid has exacerbated all of this of course.

A recent New York Times article cited the book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, which explains that stress hormones from feeling socially isolated can have as serious an impact on the human body as smoking or obesity.

The British government even appointed a minister for loneliness in 2017. Nursing home residents have experienced increased depression, weight loss, and more during the pandemic.

The Power of Music

John Carpenter, founder of the world-renowned Rebecca Center for Music Therapy in New York, shares 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.

People who are connected this way are less depressed, more likely to engage in other meaningful activities, and less likely to be given anti-psychotic 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. And still another study revealed that nursing home residents with dementia who often get agitated can benefit from internet video chat that enables residents to both see as well as hear others while reducing agitation.

Music also:

  • Lowers anxiety
  • Reduces loneliness
  • Lowers agitation
  • Improves memory
  • Improves cognitive skills
  • Involves caregivers
  • Promotes self-expression and stimulation
  • Provides cognitive stimulation
  • Provides motivation
  • Promotes physical engagement
  • Improves social connections
  • Helps improve self-identity
  • Provides pleasure and enjoyment
  • Contributes to a creative outcome

New Entertainment / Education Network Relieves Loneliness

About five years ago, I acquired the technology to stream concerts live. It was a novel idea. Care homes didn’t have the interest, bandwidth, or technology. Now things are different.

I have partnered with students from Northeastern University to solve a real societal issue – isolation – by creating a virtual entertainment and education network that provides livestream and pre-recorded programming to senior communities, senior centers, adult day care, hospice and home-bound adults.

“We couldn’t think of a more timely topic,” says Jane Braley, associate director of employer engagement and career design at The Experiential Network at Northeastern University.

Senior Communities Need Our Help

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of our health care systems: Loneliness and mental health issues loom large. We believe a community of like-minded organizations and individuals can fill the void by providing all kinds of support.

We believe this holistic, 360 degree approach is what sets this network apart, and I am glad to be part of it.

If you’re interested to help fight loneliness among older adults, please contact Anthony.

How often do you feel lonely or isolated? Is this due to the pandemic, or did it start before Covid emerged? Do you know of someone else who feels the same way? Have you experienced the power of music as an instrument against loneliness? Please share with our community.

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The Author

Anthony Cirillo is founder of Sage Stream, the Senior Entertainment/Education Network and president of The Aging Experience, which helps people and companies prepare for aging before it becomes a crisis. A health and aging expert, professional speaker, and media influencer, he is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives with a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania. Anthony serves as a Policy RoundTable member for Nationwide Financial and Bank of America.

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