Consider shared housing. Feeling lonely living alone? A friend of mine opened her home to a college student who could not afford to live on campus. If you have a house with an extra bedroom, think about accepting boarders like grandchildren, students, and travelers.
Asa part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things, We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Joy Loverde, a best-selling author, keynote speaker, mature-market consultant, entrepreneur, and advocate for family caregivers and people who are aging solo.
Joy is the author of The Complete Eldercare Planner: Where to Start, Which Questions to Ask, and How to Find Help and Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?: Plan Now to Safeguard Your Health and Happiness in Old Age.
A seasoned media spokesperson, you may have seen Joy on the TODAY Show and Good Morning America and listened to her interviews on numerous National Public Radio stations, podcasts, and SiriusXM. She has written hundreds of blogs and articles which are posted on her website (www.elderindustry.com).
During her career, she has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, TIME Magazine, New York Times, Money Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Reader’s Digest, and a host of others. USA TODAY ran a four-part series on Joy’s family-caregiver programs.
Thank you for joining us Joy! What is your “backstory?”
Mycareer path in marketing and media relations switched gears in the mid-1980s when I became keenly aware of complex problems associated with populations of people getting older and living longer, and the need to care for them. Responding to this trend, I wrote my first book — The Complete Eldercare Planner.Random House is the publisher. It is a best-seller in its category and in its sixth edition.
Ahead of the curve once again, my latest book, Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?offers practical strategies on planning for old age and the possibility of aging solo.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
My interesting career journey has everything to do with the timing of my books, the underlying message of my books, and the title of my books.
When the first edition of The Complete Eldercare Planner was released in 1985, not too many people were awake to parent-care back then, but my persistence in introducing employee eldercare benefits to Corporate America gained enough attention to turn the first 1,000 printing into a second printing (8,000) in a matter of months. Then the Wall Street Journal got wind of my book, and the rest is history.
Fast forward, and the same thing is happening today. I knew ten years ago that I would write a book on planning for aging solo and old age, but the timing was not right. I waited patiently until more people were on the “other side” of parent-care to launch my next book. It also made sense to me that my book would be titled, Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? It’s a question people ask themselves a lot.
Both books spark worldwide movements. This is something I never expected.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am involved in numerous and exciting projects — an American company called INFrobotics that manufactures robots to help avert isolation and loneliness for our aging population and a not-for-profit organization called 2Life Communities that offers moderately priced housing to middle-income people. There is also a powerful movement afoot to create kind and compassionate environments for people to die. No one wants to die alone.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
For over 40 years, I have accumulated advice and guiding principles from experts in the aging industry — the old people themselves. They are my truth detectors.
I participate in as many webinars, workshops, studies, interviews, expert panels, and conferences as time allows. I am also embedded in a social web that connects me with an expansive and diverse network of industry thought-leaders and mature-market business owners, continually seeking their advice and picking their brains.
Extensive travel allows me to compare experiences as I observe the cultures and traditions of old people worldwide.
Finally, I have a daily practice of reading anything that expands my outlook on old age.
According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
We, humans, are social creatures. Connection to others is what enables us to thrive. The unwillingness to reach out and give to others is what sets the downward spiral of isolation and loneliness in motion.
Research reveals that loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic — as harmful as not exercising and twice as harmful as being obese.
Loneliness affects us all — young and old.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
The harm is unquestionable. I know of a lonely woman who schedules frequent doctor appointments simply to feel connected. She even goes so far as to undergo avoidable surgical procedures because she loves the attention she gets in the hospital. She explains, “It’s like living in a high-class hotel.” If nothing is done, loneliness will inevitably take its toll on the entire healthcare system.
With family members scattering everywhere to pursue dreams of their own, choosing to live child-free, and people marrying later (or not at all), traditional family structures are changing rapidly and stressing communities that are not preparing for these social shifts.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Fear of change. We are a work in progress. Classic crossroads — such as taking on the role of caregiver, becoming widowed, leaving the workplace, deaths of friends and loved ones, the onset of a chronic illness — continuously force us out of our comfort zone. Loss and loneliness occupy the same headspace. No matter how much I advocate the need to plan for inevitable transitions there will always be people who are stuck in the fear of change and choose to do nothing about making appropriate adjustments in their lives.
- Lack of commitment. I often hear adults say, “It’s hard to make friends later in life.” This is why I am an active member of The Transition Network. We meet regularly, and conversations naturally dive deep as you would imagine they would when women 50-plus gather and share life-long experiences. Meaningful and trusting friendships require an investment in time and energy in-person, otherwise, we cannot truly be “known” to others.
- Belief in assumptions. Many of us enter a room full of people we do not know and almost instantly feel judged and insecure. Talking to strangers is not a skill we learn growing up. In fact, we are instructed to avoid people we do not know. The result is we make assumptions about others and fear what might happen if we initiate a conversation. I have learned that everyone is approachable. If talking with strangers is a challenge for you, networking professionals, Susan RoAne is someone to know. And yes, like me, Susan is highly approachable.
In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Consider shared housing. Feeling lonely living alone? A friend of mine opened her home to a college student who could not afford to live on campus. If you have a house with an extra bedroom, think about accepting boarders like grandchildren, students, and travelers. Check out these resources: National Shared Housing Resource Center and Silvernest.
- Befriend a family caregiver. Terribly lonely and emotionally challenging describes the role of a family caregiver. Denise Brown, Founder of Caregiving.com says, “The mistaken assumption is that our loneliness comes from our location — being inside our house — and that we can easily solve that by simply reaching out through FaceTime. This is the kind of comment that makes me crazy.” Denise says FaceTime is the problem. “FaceTime with a friend who shares about her weekend parties, date nights, and carefree days makes us feel completely misunderstood, absolutely disconnected from support and utterly alone. Rather than suggesting FaceTime, visit a family caregiver with the goal to listen with kindness and compassion.”
- You go first. A friend recently told me she wasn’t sure whom to put down on her emergency forms when she moved into a new apartment. There is a growing number of people who can’t name one person who they feel truly knows them or whom they trust if they need help. It’s not a problem until it is. Sure, you have good friends, but are they “medical-procedure” close? Why not tell a few friends that they can count on you in an emergency and give them permission to put your name on their emergency form. When you reach out first, you may find that friends will do the same for you.
- Ask coworkers how they’re doing. Many people spend most of their waking hours at work, yet it’s easy to feel physically and emotionally isolated on the job because of less facetime. If the idea of creating workplace environments of belonging appeals to you, seize opportunities to check in with one another. Ask, “How are you doing?” Check-ins are a time to listen and better understand your fellow co-workers.
- Listen actively. Extracting stories and actively listening to other people’s stories is the glue that makes friendships grow even closer. For best outcomes, I create as many in-person gatherings with friends as time allows. Grabbing coffee in the early morning before work seems to work best. During our time together after I ask a question, I look my friend in the face and give my full attention. I don’t interrupt. My goal is to create a strong sense of connection.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’m delighted to mention that my book has already started a movement. NOTHING binds us better than sharing a meal. Young and old. Rich and poor. Everybody can participate. Join the “Let’s Eat Together” movement and together we can change our lonely, isolated world one meal at a time.
Invite friends over for a home-cooked meal. Bring a plate of spaghetti and meatballs to your neighbor. Share your sandwich on a park bench. You can find a variety of meal-sharing strategies in my book, Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? beginning on page 151 and on my Pinterest page.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d love to grab a cup of coffee with Dag Kittlaus and his brother, Erik. Dag invented Siri. Erik is an inventor, designer, and entrepreneur. I’d like to learn more about how technology “disrupters” thinks and how they get their products to market. I have an idea to run by them that will help avert the loneliness crisis.
How can our readers follow you on social media?