Many baby boomers and older adults remember growing up in a house that was always full of people. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and the random stranger coming through town were common experiences. People would just stop by—and no one cared!
My husband and I recently watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and we loved it as much as the first one. There is something about watching a big, loud, messy and interconnected family that triggers a primal wistfulness or a sweet nostalgia. We are wired to find comfort in the protective sense of being part of a tribe, no matter how modern life becomes.
Sadly, this type of tumultuous intergenerational living is nearly extinct these days—and we are paying a bigger price than we think. Studies show living alone has adverse health effects, yet as our society has become more affluent, we have built homes and lifestyles that are isolating. With one in four adults over 50 getting divorced and empty nesters growing in number, the problem will only continue to grow if we don't do something about it.
Are you living alone due to an empty nest, divorce, widowhood or lifestyle choice? In addition to some of the challenges of having to manage all of the chores and expenses, studies show the isolation of living alone can increase the risk of our physical and mental health.
According to University of Chicago social neuroscientist John Cacioppo, who co-authored Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, “Chronic feelings of isolation can drive a cascade of physiological events that actually accelerates the aging process.”
Loneliness has been shown to impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system and increase the risk for vascular, inflammatory and heart disease. It has been shown to increase the risk of early death by 45%, and the chance of developing later-life dementia by 64%. Like the famous rhesus monkey who failed to thrive, we require human interaction throughout our lives to survive.
Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones, highlights five spots on Earth with the greatest longevity. They all share nine characteristics, including strong social connections and a sense of purpose. They drink a lot of wine, laugh a lot and rarely go to a gym. Buettner teamed up with the AARP and the United Health Foundation to recreate these nine traits in Albert Lea, MN. After one year, participants added an estimated 2.9 years to their average lifespan, and healthcare claims dropped 49 percent.
Around the world, communities are aging rapidly, with scores of older adults living alone. The phenomenon, which is most prevalent in cities, raises a host of health and safety issues for local governments. Baby boomers are the fastest-growing segment of people living alone, nearly doubling in number since 1999 and surpassing the 75+ age group in the United States.
Time to Create a Modern Tribe
With modern families living far away from one another, we have to create our own tribes to fill our homes, communities and hearts with life. The movement of homesharing has reinvented the old fashioned intergenerational lifestyle. Taking in a tenant or roommate not only brings in additional income—it can have a slew of social and health benefits as well.
If you weren’t lucky enough to be born into a Big Fat [Fill in the Blank] Family, make one! Invite friends for a leftover potluck and don’t worry about cleaning the house—no one notices. Force yourself to engage in community gatherings. If you have space in your house that is unused, don’t be afraid to offer a room to someone who needs it.
Learn more about homesharing and sign up at www.silvernest.com.