CANTON — When documentary filmmakers Stu Maddux and Joseph Applebaum were looking for a new project, they asked people they’d worked with on previous films about what the next big sleep problem was. By a two-to-one margin, Mr. Applebaum said, the answer was loneliness.
On October 26, the filmmakers were at SUNY Canton to show their film “All the Lonely People” to about 60 people from St. Lawrence and Lewis counties to display.
The selection was a collaboration between the State Office for Aging, The Association for Aging, the Offices for Aging in the provinces of St. Lawrence and Lewis, SUNY Canton and the Department of Applied Psychology at SUNY Canton.
The documentary, written by Mr. Maddux and Mr. Applebaum and directed by Mr. Maddux, tells the stories of lonely people in their own words through a series of interviews. The subjects range widely from a gay couple in a small town in Alaska to two teenage girls in a big city in England. There’s a woman in a bed in San Francisco and some artists trying to navigate COVID and social media in New York.
“We couldn’t model every demographic,” said Mr. Applebaum said during a question-and-answer session after the Canton show. “We tried to choose people who were generally representative.”
The film is subtitled, Stories of Resilience in the Face of Loneliness.
“Loneliness is one of the top five issues we work with,” St. Lawrence County Office for the Aging Director Andrea Montgomery said.
This is such an important issue that everyone who contacts the Office on Aging for the first time for any program is given a loneliness assessment.
“That allows us to make referrals,” Ms Montgomery said.
Reasons for loneliness and social isolation can vary. The film depicts an elderly woman living in the remote English countryside. She never learned to drive and with her husband disabled she is limited to a few bus trips a week to a village where she can shop.
The Alaskan couple kept to themselves in their younger years and when one fell ill, they were without a support system.
Ms Montgomery said that loneliness can creep up on a person. Many people who hear them say they are the last of their siblings or the last of their friends still alive.
“For some people it becomes the norm,” Ms. Montgomery said. “That’s just how I feel.”
Still, you don’t have to be alone to be lonely, Ms. Montgomery said.
One of the artists in New York City said that he lived in a building with 600 people, yet knew only a few.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, “Loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks that affect a significant number of people in the United States and put them at risk for dementia and other serious medical conditions.”
The CDC reports that recent studies have found that:
• Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that could rival that of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.
• Social isolation has been associated with approximately a 50% increased risk of dementia.
• Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) were associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
• Loneliness has been associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
• Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4-fold increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.
Solutions for loneliness don’t have to be complicated.
The film tells the story of a police officer in England who worked on a case where a woman was defrauded out of a large amount of money. The troubling part of his investigation was that the woman was aware she was being scammed but had no one to talk to but her scammer.
He made signs that said, “The happy chat bench, sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say ‘hello’,” and placed them on benches along a busy promenade.
“People are not going to call us because they are lonely,” said Ms. Montgomery said. “But, maybe they’ll call to get a meal.”
Those people can be directed to a community dining area, she said, where they can stay afterward to play cards or bingo or just chat. The film is being screened in the state presented by the State Office on Aging and the Society on Aging.
The filmmakers said it will air on PBS soon.