Milken Institute: Loneliness as a Risk Factor
As a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, the Milken Institute is dedicated to increasing global prosperity. And at their annual Future of Health Summit on Wednesday, Oct. 24, Dr. Jeremy Nobel, Foundation for Art & Healing founder, took the stage as part of an ever-pressing conversation around loneliness and social isolation. The panel, featuring thought leaders from across the medical landscape, took aim at two goals: make clear the connection between loneliness and physical health, and identify action items for those in the health sector, those who are caring for lonely and socially isolated populations.
Dr. Nobel’s panel mates included Sachin Jain, Chief Connection Officer of Caremore, Anand Parekh, Chief Medical Advisor of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Lynn Goldman, a pediatrician and dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. With Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP, moderating, the onstage group passionately spoke on the health risks for loneliness and social isolation for nearly an hour, emphasizing again and again: Loneliness is a challenge that’s here and that’s real.
“There’s a growing awareness that loneliness won’t just make you miserable – it’ll kill you,” said Dr. Nobel during the panel discussion.
- Lisa Marsh Ryerson President, AARP Foundation
- Lynn Goldman Michael and Lori Milken Dean, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University
- Sachin Jain President and CEO, CareMore
- Jeremy Nobel Founder, UnLonely Project; Faculty, Harvard Medical School
- Anand Parekh Chief Medical Advisor, Bipartisan Policy Center
In addition to increasing national attention and reducing stigma – making “lonely” mentionable – the panel stressed the need to leverage existing infrastructures like YMCAs, community centers and community hospitals, in the fight against loneliness. Important, too, they said, was ensuring that they, as members of the health sector, had the right screening tools and effective delivery methods. The idea of prescribing social activities and treating “connection” as an antidote to loneliness was a frequently mentioned example, as was simply listening to patients.
The final piece of the puzzle – and arguably the hardest to attain – is the shifting of public policy solutions. Dr. Lynn Goldman of the Milken Institute quickly pointed out that there continues to be limited data on the health effects and prevalence of loneliness. And without “big data,” the governing powers that be can be difficult to sway.
“Loneliness is a disease, from our perspective, that’s as old as the human race. We, as humans, have a deep personal need to connect with one another, and when we don’t, we feel it,” said Sachin Jaine of Caremore. “It shows up in the form of chronic disease, it shows up in the way of mental illness and depression. And it doesn’t a new drug, it doesn’t require a new device to be invented, it doesn’t require a new procedure. It really just requires that we be our best selves. That we be human.”
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