Imagine you are all alone.
Imagine that in your loneliness you aren’t able to move quickly, see properly or complete everyday tasks without pain or discomfort.
To many of us, zooming through our lives and social calendars, this sounds like the stuff of nightmares.
Worse yet, imagine that this state of loneliness and discomfort goes on for days, no, make that a week, a month.
No friends and family come to visit.
You don’t have anyone to visit.
It’s painful to move from your bedroom to the bathroom let alone leave the house.
So you stay home. And the worst? Remove any hope that this cycle of being alone and isolated, while in pain, will ever stop.
Just sit with that image of your life for a moment.
Let the weight of that scenario melt into your heart and head because we owe it to them.
We owe it to the thousands of seniors in our neighbourhoods and suburbs whose isolation and loneliness is crippling.
A group of volunteers did just that, they put themselves in the shoes of isolated seniors for a week and their powerful testimonies speak for themselves.
An isolation experiment in the U.K. mimicked the lonely life lead by thousands of seniors the world over.
Seven years ago, volunteers cut themselves off from the world.
No social contact was allowed, from texts to phone calls, even Facebook wasn’t allowed.
In addition to not being allowed to communicate with the outside world, volunteers were tasked to wear gloves and glasses that blurred their vision.
The gloves and glasses were to help simulate the difficulties many seniors face in going about their daily routine and completing small household tasks.
Each day a volunteer checked in with a video diary entry explaining how they were feeling.
As the days progressed it became apparent to all watching that the mood of all steadily lowered.
Experts have estimated that over a million elderly lead isolated and lonely lives in the UK alone.
In Australia, it’s estimated there are nearly a quarter of a million people over the age of 70 who are lonely. Given the ageing population, that number is expected to rise.
Unable to communicate with anyone, the volunteers started to reach some understanding of the totality of feeling, mood and daily life of those in isolation.
As early as the second day, volunteers started speaking about the escalating difficulty of leading an isolated life. “It’s becoming so much harder”, is spoken by a volunteer looking earnestly into their video diary lens.
On day one, a volunteer spoke about her thumbs becoming painful due to the restricted use of her fingers.
From the study, it quickly became obvious that when in a situation of isolation, the volunteers did not flourish.
Worse yet, all their moods started to lower with each passing day and the experiment only lasted seven days.
For the million in the U.K and the many more around the world, there is no end date, there is no hope of reprieve.
What Does The Science Tell Us?
Of the countless studies that have been done on isolation, it can safely be said that it affects us humans colossally.
Most psychologists and psychiatrists argue that we as humans are social creatures, we flourish, grow, develop and change through collaboration and community.
When that is taken away, a core component of what creates the spark in our selves is severely compromised.
Within the scientific research done across the past century, volunteers in isolation have developed hallucinations, mental disorders, started hearing choirs, screaming and have lost all sense of time and identity.
For the majority of us, isolation does not bode well.
The isolation study was about empathy. It’s what experts from almost every sector say is lacking in our modern world.
Arguably, the world needs a whole heap more of it.
Empathy unlocks compassion and commiseration, support and kindness. Importantly, empathy can encourage action and change.
The social experiment opened the eyes of its volunteers to the depth of emotional and mental pain that comes with isolation and loneliness.
It is up to us as a society, a nation and world to take up the lessons from empathy and channel it into hope for those whose hearts are heavy and low.
To connect, to help and to love is to help a human and be the most human yourself.