Early in 2020, the first shelter-in-place measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 forced millions into physical and social isolation and introduced the grave consequences of loneliness to many who had never experienced it before, at least not in a sustained way. But the pandemic only underscored what millions of people across the generations already knew.

In the United States, more than one-quarter of people over age 60 live alone, according to a Pew Research Survey, and more than 43 percent of them reported feeling lonely even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Younger people suffer from loneliness, too. In fact, those aged 18 to 22 have the highest loneliness scores, a recent survey found and being a student correlates heavily with scoring high on the Cigna US Loneliness Index.

Loneliness has significant health consequences for all age groups. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, found that loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to peoples’ health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and contributes to early mortality. Other studies show that those who identify themselves as lonely are 59 percent more likely to lose the ability to perform daily living tasks, and are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, dementia, and depression.

One point of light, however, is that local innovators—many young, first-time entrepreneurs motivated to help elders during the pandemic—are stepping in, bringing their technology skills to the table, and coming up with intergenerational solutions.

Over the past two years, we’ve learned a great deal from our partners, clients, and college students. We offer the following four lessons for other organizations working to fight loneliness, while transforming eldercare and the lives of older and younger adults.

  • Recognize the stigma.
  • Tap the interest and commitment of both generations.
  • Use technology to engage younger people.
  • Build relationships and community.

Read the full article about loneliness by Madeline Dangerfield-Cha and Joy Zhang at Stanford Social Innovation Review.