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The Loneliness Epidemic: Can We Fight It With Technology?

Using technology can reduce health risks and isolation for seniors in the future.

A man sitting on a park bench alone.

Content provided by Good Samaritan Society.

Everyone needs relationships. No one thrives alone.

Almon Adam is a prime example of that. A lifelong Christian, he moved away from his rural community when living alone became difficult.

As Almon ages, he struggles to remember some things that used to come to him easily. Few family members live nearby, which limits their ability to visit. Loneliness has become a growing concern for his family and friends. 

But a new program called Kin Ministry offered through his daughter’s congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in Yankton, South Dakota, is helping him connect with a trusted volunteer and with family members.

Debby Larson is a trained volunteer BeFriender who was paired with Almon. She recently completed BeFriender training, a faith-based active listening program. The two now connect almost every day using video chat, discussing family, hobbies and anything else that comes up. Almon is happy that Kin Ministry also gives him the ability to make video chat connections with his out-of-town family members.

Almon is not the only one experiencing loneliness. Millions of seniors are graying every day. And while the loneliness epidemic is not as recognized as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, the effects are just as devastating.

Although there is no official treatment for loneliness, there are ways to help alleviate some of its impact. One of those solutions is Kin Ministry.

Kin Ministry’s highly interactive, easy-to-use app was brought to fruition when the Good Samaritan Society’s innovation team was seeking ways to connect seniors who are homebound or living in rural areas with caring adults.

“It may seem counterintuitive for technology to be a solution for loneliness,” says Brad Edwards, innovation consultant for the Good Samaritan Society. “But Kin is not simply a technology support system, it’s a way for seniors affected by loneliness to connect with the people who help them thrive.”

Through the app, a single button connects lonely and isolated seniors with members of their church, who will make regular contact with them. They can talk about anything that’s on their minds and feel a sense of belonging at their most vulnerable times.

“Being a Christ-centered organization, we look for ways to solve problems through spirituality if possible,” says Brad. “Of course, not everything can be solved that way, but church is a great place to start tackling loneliness and social isolation.”

Technologies such as Kin Ministry have been shown to reduce loneliness, improve health and quality of life, and reduce health care costs. But technology is just one piece in the puzzle of solving loneliness. The human aspect helps personalize the connection. 

During her sessions with Almon, Debby saw the latest puzzle he was working on, and saw the smile on his face as he shared with her a favorite musical Christmas decoration.

After just a few months using Kin Ministry, Almon says he is less lonely and has an easier time remembering the important people in his life.

Almon truly is at his happiest when he is in the presence of other people. Kin Ministry offers him a way to fill in the loneliest times of the day.” – Debby Larson, Kin Ministry volunteer

For Almon and those like him, it’s a small step toward improving overall health for seniors, but it could have a huge impact on reducing isolation in the future.  

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