Prescription for loneliness
This is a CBC podcast. Hi, I'm Jamie for the last decade. I've been a newspaper reporter and lately just finding it hard to keep up with the news today. Simple possession of marijuana is no longer illegal. It can be hard to make sensing investigators spent nine hours in the consulates appearance. I want to change that at least a little I hope you'll join me for front burner daily podcast from CBC news. Subscribe now wherever you get your podcast. I'm Dr Brian Goldman, this is white coat black art the show that looks at medicine from all sides of the gurney. Least nine million people in the UK manage some intense degree of loneliness as sense of isolation. January the British government announced the creation of a ministry of loneliness that made headlines here in Canada. And for good reason is as dangerous as being clinically obese is very tough on your health. If you're a senior citizen, and you're lonely, will you might be going for days if not weeks without any sort of social interaction. A study found that loneliness is damaging to your health of smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, perhaps even more damaging the diabetes and obesity. And if you have cancer loneliness increases the risk that it spreads the Canadian longitudinal study on aging found that thirty percent of women over the age of seventy five reported being lonely women like ninety two year old Lesley Adamson when I fill. Fiction book. Oh, whatever. Two three skid me the broken ribs from tumble down the basement steps of the bungalow where she lives were bad enough. Like a lot of frail seniors lesley's prone to falling even worse is that Leslie a widow. So when she fell she was alone. Niijima husband. Really did. He was to was vacant and I need him. Yeah. Lesley Adamson is taking part in a remarkable social experiment designed to help guard her health, I addressing her loneliness. And it's taking place right inside her own home. We sent producer Jeff goods to check it out. I'm Jeff nice to meet you too is Leslie though, how're you doing? Leslie has a roommate named Kara Duncan pile of cheesecake pieces. You must be doing great. This is a seventy year age gap between the two and that is no accident place. You have. He's not bad. It's not bad. Both are participants in symbiosis an experiment and co housing run by the school of graduate. Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario. The goal is win win affordable housing for students or engagement and less loneliness for seniors. Thank you wherever current. It's not one win. But to she's been studying gerontology at McMaster symbiosis matched car and Leslie for compatibility they met for an interview and hit it off Kara moved into Leslie's bungalow in suburban and caster close to the university car got her own bedroom. And agreed to be Leslie's living companion in exchange for reduced rent. A good arrangement in theory, the acid test came when it was time for Kara to move in a big stiff. I felt fell tape was in a way an intrusion. Into my life. I think of it now. No. No, I don't think of it. Now, I think if you dole to. I mean, I feel like you're pretty you're really easy to get along with then when you live so closely with someone for quite some time to Neville. Yes. You get to know of and you live with them like. A few days ago. She had she's oh, most of Aken is them care -tarian yet. Yes. Not going gonna say. When I had milk. I don't drink enough. I don't drink milk that much. So I had milk and my stomach was so sore, and I just curled up in bed with McCoist. I'll make ache. The mother in me Cosa had four children. I won't to two of cattle. You know, a hot water bottle and wanted to get a hold of Buttle, except you call them bobby's right times, you safe things and they're just so British. That's funny. A year later, they're good friends so much so that when Kara graduated with her bachelors in health studies and gerontology she was reluctant to move out you if you want to stay. With me and. You said, you, you, you, you would you would, you know, you'd like you'd like to did you plan on staying when when you walk through the door the first time, we were you looking at this is a one year thing. So the way that the program worked it was the leases were originally around like moving around September. So I did move in a little bit late. And then our lease was may I I think like are green -ment that we had made. And so we had talked about 'cause I know that I came into your house in that this is your home and you've lived here for so long. And so we had a conversation where I said, you know, I'm having a great time living here, and I would love to stay. But if you would like your home back like that's not a problem when the Lisa's I can move out if you'd like you said, I could say. Well, yes, wounded stay shoes. Good company and a likable fund. Important. You know, I think him. Do I think? Usually say that I'm a help. Sometimes if I'm around. Today. I did your hair because it fallen out. Yes. She did hit home, which was a great. I can't. Phil. You know, I come VH with my hair. And will not have cut short like only Sienese do heavy socials and curly Kelly. My friends love, Leslie, they think that she's they asked about you all the time all the people at work, and all of my friends, they ask how you doing my family asks are you doing all the time? Yeah. All the time. Like, you have so many cool stories that I'll tell my friends or I'll update them on what we've been doing. Or if something funny happens like the time that you fell headfirst into the recycling bin I'll tell them that. I keep them updated on on my life and your life because our lives are kind of intertwined now. So people wanna know what you're up to what you're doing. And how you're feeling. Stain. How strange his? We we went out for dinner the other day with my friend. So is my best friend Heather, and I took Leslie out for lunch. And we went out to get sushi, which it was all you can eat sushi and not has the ipods. Right. You order off the ipad anything that was pretty wild for you. You didn't end up ordering off the ipod you ordered off the ala carte paper. Many. But I thought it would be cool this for you to see how you can order off of this little tiny, computer. And all your food comes for you. Stage. Use to that sort of thing. Three gals out for sushi ordering off an ipod. Oh, completely completely different. Oh on you have Caros your guide. Yes. Over in the kitchen Leslie's daughters. Samantha listens in on the conversation between her mother and Kara Leslie also has three sons Samantha lives in Toronto too far away to be available at a moment's notice. She says they encourage their mother to give co housing try. We were nervous about leaving her in the house alone. She she would fall. Sometimes we didn't know and she was just uncomfortable. I think she feared being on her own and she was lonely. So she doesn't have in that interaction with someone. I live in Toronto. So I can always be here and Ono's has real knives. Right. So and their families sort of situation, we moved a long-term care centers. But she's not quite ready for that. That's why I think if you can give I keep her or we can keep her in her home as long as possible should be happy, and, you know, continue leave a decent life in a comfortable life. Runa by things in her cat and her friends, and that's really important. I think we all want that. So yeah, I can kind of relax now annoying that female in the house and cars more more laid back than me. So it's kind of nice for she thinks when my mom falls or something. She doesn't carry upside about it's kind of a nice balance of come unless year. Okay. Or she knows when to sort of contact us, which is good, you know, and I think if we could embrace more of this than we'd have a lot more seniors who could buy live in their homes and help out the generation who needs a Ford about housing. So it'd be a win win are green -ment. It was quite relaxed. I was mostly here. I think for companionship in in case, you had falls, which I think has been helpful 'cause you have had a couple tumble. Our walls always say that you're falls are funny. Times. They are one time. You you fell down a couple steps because you are holding jello in your hand. And that was a really big thump, and I came running from downstairs, and you were Wrold on the floor. And I thought the worst. And then I saw you slowly reaching your hand for the jello because it fallen out of the Cup and you need to put it back in. That was your first consider. You're okay. Yes. Sometimes scarier sometimes. You're falls aren't quite funny. Yes. I take out the garbage and bring the bin. And and. Mendes. So little and it's kind of all I do your laundry. Now, I have to take that out of the wash actually flip it over in a little bit. But those are such little things. But I think it's other things like sometimes you can't get your earrings in. So I'll help you with your earrings. And sometimes you forget your glasses upstairs. I'll run up and get your glasses. Yes. But you have other help that comes into the house, right? Like, there's things that you don't need me to help you with because you already have, you know, the PS ws come in Monday Wednesday Friday to help you with your showers, and we have cleaning people who come in few. I count go into the show. Without help. So Leslie, it sounds like Carrie is like the one of the things to someone being there. Yes. Yes. What would life be like? Now if you were living on your own without care. Admit toby. Lesley Adamson Kara Duncan are roommates in Hamilton. But there are more intergenerational housing programs across Canada Toronto Montreal and Nova Scotia's Annapolis valley to name a few we've posted links to the symbiosis project and the other programs in Canada to our blog CBC dot CA slash white coat. You're listening to white coat black art this week addressing the health problems caused by chronic loneliness when British Prime Minister, Theresa may appointed a minister of loneliness, it was part of a multi-million dollar strategy to reduce visits to the ER. And the doctor's office brought on by being lonely. When I hear the word prescription of whipping out my script pad to prescribe a pill, the kind of prescription they're testing out across the ocean is one you don't need a pharmacist to fill. Doctors are being encouraged to treat loneliness by prescribing activities, like cookery classes, walking clubs and art groups. Hi, ohi vary. It's Brian Calvin Toronto. How are you this afternoon? Yes, I'm very well. Thank you. Dr Mirela canny is a family doctor and president of the Royal College of general practitioners the organization that represents GP's. We reached by a what's app. I have a question. How many lonely older people? Do you see in your general practice? So I can see up to five day who I know. This is a big issue for us in the UK overall feel that are two million people over the age of sixty five who have problems with loneliness, and as a GP important do it because this getting onto to ill health, and it's something hidden as peasant patient. So the person may not come in thing that lonely but present with physical symptoms, but underlying their health is around the issue of loneliness. You've said that there's been a lightbulb moment in the UK when it comes to older people in loneliness. And I'm wondering was there a lightbulb moment for you in your own practice with a particular patient story. Yes. Yes. For me in back at my career. I've. Been thinking of folk who Bill to relationship with and coming to see me regularly. And I'm thinking of one particular lady who actually I so many many times than whatever I get really help and some Denver change medications. Sometimes we need to next right? Some we did something else or new problem with that new image. And essentially looking back on now, I think that lady's main problem was isolated and known it. I'm actually what would help them mole would be be friend of Tia Oakland for lunch club or having a TV tea, and you're doing something called social prescribing. What is that? So no, many drugs up by doctors don't train full what the issue pill scripts and prescriptions. But what we actually we'll do the physical active prescribing used to say, what would you like to someone who can show you what range of activities, you could take pocket individ- or in your community? Oh, would you like to take part in volunteering would you like to take bought in small walks around where you live with other people with similar interests? So that people placed in some doctor's office. This is the news. We have like what nationwide who's rolling actually to support people with the. Social an emotion issue say light on housing, it might be bullet. Tearing. So we suspected this would that consent do social prescribe, but who will then talk to them about the options, and they work out of your office. Yes, how long have you had a social prescribing expert in your practice? So we've had one full or about eighteen months. Now what what benefits have you seen? So I think patients who have access to service of founded, and they're now people off team to go directly to to lady who is the social describe a specialist. I think the GP's find it supporting this you reassured that somebody's dad who can deal with the side of things especially at a time like this. When the social prescribing concept is is in an experimental phase. I'm assuming that not every physician is in favor of it. What do detractors say? I think it's. I think it's they say that they're off question about you know, what is the return on this? And is it really a doctor's job to engage with social issues? Like now, we can get these for family top too because your family talk because you understand the patient the soundly the relationships. So I think it's a good thing. I want to thank you for for speaking with us let you judge you if social prescribing succeeds, it will also be a good thing for the national health service, which is struggling with the rising cost of healthcare the pilot program, but Dr Mireles Connie president of the Royal College of general practitioners talked about addresses loneliness one patient at a time. Meanwhile, a GP who works in the small English town of freedom has much bigger plans. Hi, my name is Helen Kingston on a primary caddo to general practitioner in Freeman some. A set and together with Johnny Houghton will I setup project coup compassionate frame say king to build on the SS. We already had community untrained people with kindness and compassion as human beings rather than simply that I see Dr Helen Kingston, like Dr Connie has been working to treat loneliness in her patients, she's the brains behind the compassionate from project. The local health clinic in the town of from has organized a group of hundreds of volunteers within the community there called health connectors and their everyone from social workers and drug counselors, two hairdressers and taxi drivers they help people connect with others. Maybe the sign up for a social event in the community. Even go with them for moral support the program, which Dr Kingston started in two thousand thirteen aims to reduce loneliness across the entire community. It's had some pretty dramatic results. I spoke with Dr Kingston by Skype from her clinic. And from tell me what you do when a senior, for instance, an elderly patient who's identified as lonely walks into your office said the first thing I would do is sit down as a human being with them untrained listened on papal Philo to stick not to favour around being lovely. Is it my fault? Nobody likes me, though, soul to those. So sometimes token to somebody you can talk through that program. Stable ready had a few souls about how they might to dress that undue Cohen talk with them, and perhaps sit beside them on via able to encourage them to take those steps they've already been thinking about other people might not have that confidence. And they might need a little bit of support. And we've got some health connect to one to one what 'cause who will work with people. Take them alone to lunch clubs take them a loan to meet other people arrange befriend, the so if you at that, very low way, you don't have the confidence to take the steps that you would like to the someone that can help you through that difficult transition. When you started the compassionate from project in two thousand thirteen were you trying to address a specific medical need at the time. I know you got some amazing results. But but were you will aware that you are going to try to use this community approach to address those needs way moved into a new building in two thousand thirteen on a low with the move Kevin expectation across the community that things were going to improve an only know sitting a little side people day today in my consultation that the things that really Mets it when not drugs operations necessarily. It was that human fat to contact. So that's why we began this project at that time. It was aimed a trying to give us the tools to be able to help paint whole with the things that really mattered to them. Not just. The medical condition in mind 'table through the dole with molding to try unimproved people's lives on by doing that. We've also really improve the team spirit here. I'm the lives of those of what king in health and social cat because we have that pride that we feel with making a difference again rather than saying, well, that's not too medical problem. Galloway? That's not what you'll have full as a doctor. Do you notice a difference in your own patients? I think this approach fails much more human it is about getting to sing that individual in front view connecting. I'm trying to treat them climb us. Totals today that now is always what you want to do. But it hasn't always been as easy. You also had a tremendous impact on the demand for medical care in in your region. Can you tell me about that? So we were able to get the data to show that this approach all mating with people as human beings, supporting them and around actually reduces the number of people going into hospital as an emergency, it safe sixty pounds every ten pounds that was invested in the scheme in tons of the Commission's savings that behalf. So it it is making a huge difference. It just happens to be doing the right thing is also pet tutti. So the sense I've got is that doctors. And other parts of the medical system have drifted away from from this approach that you're espousing. Why do you think that is? I think this quite pushed to holds technology until votes very pill medical mobile looks at everything that is wrong with an individual as being a disease, and then a Q, and then the problem goes away, but medicine doesn't have field suffer everything but humanity unkindness another bit of compassion Convery much help Citra loan. So it some won't and help them through those difficulties to come to a little bit of acceptance about limitations. They have on still have a sense of wellbeing on a sense of making the most of their lives Helen Kingston, the doctor behind the compassionate from project says the program doesn't just address loneliness. She says it saves sixty British pounds for every ten. Pounds invested for cash-strapped provinces in Canada. It seems like something worth checking into starting this month. Quebec doctors will be able to prescribe a visit to the Montreal museum of fine arts and on -tario has started a social prescribing pilot project at eleven community health centers good for the system and good for people who are lonely. That's our show for this weekend. Let us know what you think of the idea of treating loneliness as a health concern, Email us at white coat at CBC dot CA or post or blog at CBC dot CA slash white coat. I'm on Twitter at night shift MD and the show is that CBC white coat. We're also on Facebook. And if you're looking for the latest in health news and analysis subscribe to second opinion at subscriptions dot CBC dot C, white coat black art was produced this week by Jeff goods with help from producers ominous offer so Jetta berry, plus digital producer, ruby Wease. And the rest of our digital team. Our senior producers daunting wall that's medicine for my side of the gurney. I'm Brian Goldman see next week. For more CBC podcasts. Goto CBC dot CA slash podcasts.