Private Health Networks are the Solution to the Loneliness Epidemic

It’s a well-known fact by now that our world’s population is aging. According to the WHO, between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%. And countries worldwide are feeling the challenge of making sure their health systems are ready to deal with this demographic shift. While this aging population is a positive sign of the progression of our health and medical systems, it also leads to a significant economic burden. In Canada alone, this figure is expected to rise $22.6 billion between 2016 and 2045.

 
More than 40% of older adults reported feelings of loneliness.

More than 40% of older adults reported feelings of loneliness.

 

A recent article released by the Globe and Mail highlights an important preparation that should be undertaken for our aging society: social connection. As the article states, “one of the key factors associated with longevity is being socially connected, involved, and engaged”. According to the U.S. Health and Retirement Study, more than 40% of older adults are lonely. This loneliness and subsequent feelings of isolation can lead to increased chances of being diagnosed with multiple chronic conditions. After age 50, the probability of contracting multiple chronic conditions is 20% higher for people living alone.

The problem also goes the other way - with chronic illness being cited as one of the biggest risk factors for loneliness. Chronic illness can result in isolation, and this resulting loneliness can lead to worsening health. Another study reported that participants who reported high levels of chronic illness became lonelier over time, while those with lower levels of chronic illness did not.

This evidence clearly dictates that something needs to be done to address this problem. On a public health scale, governments and urban designers have begun to consider the epidemic. According to the Globe and Mail article, “Urban-design elements such as the presence of parks or public gathering places, walkability, access to amenities and services, safety and public transportation all impact loneliness.” However, progress is still slow. Based on the Globe and Mail’s own research, a meager 6% of urban and suburban retirement homes in Ontario are located in highly walkable neighbourhoods.

One of the positive examples we can look to is New York’s Age-Friendly NYC strategy, which recently announced 86 initiatives launched to improve the quality of life for older adults across health and social services.

While all these positive initiatives are taking physically taking shape in communities and city centres, companies should make use of technology to enhance the social support provided to older adults and people with chronic illness. With the rise of chronic disease worldwide, an aging demographic and unsustainable healthcare spending, there is an urgent need to find new ways to empower patients towards self-management and wellbeing, including the reduction of isolation.

Curatio is the only globally privacy compliant social plugin for health. By combining the power of social networking with daily disease management tools, Curatio provides patients with the support and engagement they need from their peers. Our mission, “No patient alone,” is a necessary reminder of the power of social to help patients achieve their best health outcomes. Today, our user base continues to grow rapidly, and feedback from our users tells us that we’re filling a massive need for private support networks and making a real difference in their lives.

"The app is a fun place to share the good, the bad and the ugly and a great resource of information. Loved the challenges. They really make you think. Look forward to more of those."

"I got to know many people around the world and share in the pros and cons [of living with the disease]. The app helped me overcome depression and anxiety."

In a study of patients living with a chronic disease who used Curatio, researchers found statistically significant improvements, with 80% of users showing an increased interest in self-management, 75% showing improved health behaviours, and 71% showing improved social integration. By placing the patient as the centre of focus, Curatio aims to connect patients to others who understand exactly what they’re going through, and reduce social isolation and the resulting health challenges that it poses.

Stephanie Oey