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What’s your score?

By: Kelley Talbot

Do you know your LSNS score? How about your parents’ or grandparents’ score?

The Lubben Social Network Scale (LSNS) scores your level of social engagement – and could be an important tool for helping seniors and others stay healthy.

Take the test.

The higher your score, the greater your level of social engagement. So what’s the fuss?

Isolation and loneliness are bad for your health. So much so that researchers recommend treating it like a chronic illness, as serious as obesity and other killers. It has been linked to increased risk for sickness, disability, cognitive decline and premature death.

Studies show that loneliness increases:

  • Risk for early death by 45%,
  • Risk of dementia in later life by 64%, and
  • Rate of cognitive decline by up to 20% among the very lonely.

The reverse is true for people who have strong ties to family and friends: They are as much as 50% less at risk of dying over any given period of time than less connected people.

Residents of an intergenerational facility in Cleveland perform in a recital. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/college-students-are-living-rent-free-in-cleveland-retirement-home-180956930/

With 60 million Americans impacted by loneliness – including significant numbers of middle-aged adults – and solutions that necessarily go beyond the prescription pad – isolation is an urgent challenge calling for collaborative approaches. Real answers go beyond “keeping people busy.” What works for 40-somethings probably won’t work for 80-somethings. And affordability, as always, is a factor.

Much of the research related to isolation focuses on seniors. Traditional senior centers may improve social engagement for some, but not for people who don’t have a way to get to the programs, or who want a more comprehensive option. Senior communities may be a solution, though there are challenges surrounding leaving home and paying for a new place. Tim Carpenter, founder of EngAGE, is working to take the senior community concept to the next level– creating affordable, vibrant spaces for seniors to grow and explore, with a deliberate emphasis on the arts. There was no shortage of enthusiasm from residents, who reported feeling “liberated,” “seeing the world in a different way,” being less forgetful, and regaining their balance.

Another idea that has been gaining steam is intergenerational living. Models in Cleveland and the Netherlands are examples of college students living for free in senior housing – with both generations enjoying many types of benefits.

With serious health implications and a need for community-driven solutions, health communication professionals can play an important role in addressing isolation.