A Solution to the Isolation Epidemic?

in 2016, Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy declared that isolation was the most common disease in the U.S.

Social isolation and loneliness have been associated with major negative health effects in study after study, leading some researchers to consider long-term isolation to be just as bad for longevity as smoking cigarettes. There are also links to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s.

I think it’s a combination of many factors that is causing such an epidemic – a growing, elderly population, social media, and an increased willingness of people to relocate away from where they grew up. While none of these directly causes isolation or loneliness, they serve to create an environment that could foster such isolation.

There are many options for dealing with this isolation crisis, but I just watched a TED video that offered one solution that seemed promising.

The solution is known as cohousing, and here’s the 10-minute talk:

Herer are some excerpts from the talk that give one a good sense of what cohousing is:

Cohousing is an intentional neighborhood where people know each other and look after one another. In cohousing, you have your own home, but you also share significant spaces, both indoors and out.

The thing that makes this building uniquely cohousing are not the homes, but rather, what happens here — the social interactions that happen in and around that central courtyard.

I consider the common house the secret sauce of cohousing. It’s the secret sauce because it’s the place where the social interactions and community life begin, and from there, it radiates out through the rest of the community.

…that’s how cohousing starts: with a shared intention to live collaboratively. And intention is the single most important characteristic that differentiates cohousing from any other housing model.

It’s an interesting concept; but I have mixed feelings about whether it is something I would be interested in pursuing once I retire. While I understand the importance of social connections, I’m not sure if such an intentional approach to knowing your neighbors is necessary, or if the same thing could be accomplished in a traditional housing neighborhood.

I’m also not sure if there tends to be a lack of diversity in cohousing – are most people looking to cohouse with people whoa re quite similar to themselves? Lack of diversity could lead to major problems, or at least a warped perspective on the ways of the world.

Despite these concerns, I would still be interested in trying out cohousing to see if it is for us.

There are several cohousing opportunities in the U.S., and the number seems to be growing rapidly. Here is a link to a full list of existing or planned cohousing communities in the U.S. There’s even one in Philadelphia!

As TED speaker Grace Kim notes, cohousing is not only an antidote to isolation, it can save your life.

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