For many years we believed that loneliness was just an issue that affected the elderly. Different studies agree that lack of interaction with friends, cognitive decline, health problems and widowhood are some of the main causes that are known to contribute to this; however, there is increasingly more evidence that young people also suffer under the severity of this scourge.
Although social distancing and loneliness are different, researchers have verified their close relationship. Lack of social interaction leads to loneliness, and both conditions significantly affect health. A study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America published by FIAPAM determined that these were the causes of early death for adults who were just over 50 years old.
In 2011, the National Center for Biotechnology Information published the behavioral analysis of 8,688 adult volunteers in the United States, whose loneliness index was calculated using the UCLA Scale. Their level of social isolation was determined taking into account such relationship aspects as: marital status, frequency of contact with friends, family, and participation in social gatherings. The results establish that both loneliness and social isolation cause blood pressure and also raise both fibrinogen levels and C-reactive proteins.
The British newspaper The Independent published an article in March 2015, highlighting the fact that loneliness is not strictly a problem for older adults. Between 20 and 80 percent of English adolescents claim to feel frequently alone. One of the reasons why this seems to be on the rise in this sector of the population is their dependence on technology, which has made human relationships increasingly more superficial and less gratifying.
In March 2019, Forbes magazine revealed various findings obtained through surveys and studies carried out by reliable sources such as The Economist, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the BBC, and others. The results reflect this growing problem in both young people and adults living in different nations.
When we take into account the results and dates of the aforementioned studies, we can conclude that social isolation and loneliness are not exclusive consequences of the current health situation created by Covid-19. In reality, it has continued to grow silently and progressively over several years, affecting different generations in all parts of the world.
What is happening in Colombia?
In October 2009, the Universidad de la Sábana published an article that warned of the increase in loneliness in the adolescent population. It named some of its causes as “increase in single-parent families, an increase in the number of people who want to live alone, and an increase in the social demands that isolation implies.”
In 2018, Portfolio revealed a series of statistical data based on various studies. The data shows that a large part of the elderly population in Colombia not only suffers from loneliness and abandonment, but that the elderly also frequently the victims of insufficient or unclear government policies that were supposed to support them. This situation must be a priority for the government, because isolation and loneliness directly affect public health; however, even we, as ordinary citizens, are capable of providing ideas and promoting projects from our areas of knowledge that allow us to mitigate this problem.
Both design and architecture have the power to create environments that stimulate social interaction. It is worth looking at some international models that have advanced the research and development of such projects. Going forward, designers must come up with strategies to incorporate these new ideas in their proposals, because the projects will always have to take into account the well-being and health of the space’s occupants.
Professionals in the interior design industry have the remarkable opportunity of redefining existing spaces, and can thereby promote the symbiotic connection between the old and the young. For example, grandparents’ houses are often places steeped in history — objects, textures, aromas, and colors that not only keep the elderly people’s memories alive, but also create memories in the minds of their descendants. These often stimulate the young people’s interest in learning more about their origins. It is in this arena that the knowledge of designers and decorators becomes essential, leading to the creation of spaces that promote multigenerational interaction.
On the other hand, we must also bear in mind that older adults tend to oppose radical changes to their homes; therefore, it is essential to consider subtle but strategic interventions. Wallpaper, carpet, and curtains can assist with this, because thanks to digital technology, they contain colors, textures, and graphics that will complement the narrative of the spaces without modifying their shape.
It is worth remembering that fertility in our country is in a historical decline based on all known statistics. In a nutshell, Colombia is growing old, and 49% of young people do not want to have children. You can read more about this in one of my previous posts. For this reason, it is essential that we use our knowledge and expertise to find different ways to mitigate loneliness and social isolation both during the current crisis and after we return to Post-Covid “normality”.
Although there are specialists handling this situation, I am trying to use this space to promote conversations about real-world problems that stimulate critical thinking and creativity, aimed at building a community, and to propose scenarios that require the inclusion of design’s functional and strategic components to mitigate various social problems.