Blog

Food For Thought

By Tim Johnson
August 2020

I recently came across an article in a professional trade magazine, published in May of this year, which discussed fighting coronavirus with food. Their position is that proper nutrition can help you fight the coronavirus. Eating healthy helps you fight all diseases more effectively – not just COVID-19. It improves your mood and energy level, and reduces anxiety and depression. Every little bit of healthy eating helps your body fight disease more effectively.

According to the World Health Organization, eating a healthy diet is very important during the COVID-19 pandemic. What we eat and drink can affect our body’s ability to prevent, fight and recover from infections. While no foods or dietary supplements can prevent or cure COVID-19 infection, healthy diets are important for supporting immune systems. Good nutrition can also reduce the likelihood of developing other health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

This got me thinking how fortunate we are here at the Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Community. First of all, we have an amazing executive chef, Michael Cook. For 18 years, Cook was the executive chef at the very popular and trendy restaurant À Côté in Oakland’s Rockridge district.

For his part, Cook has embraced his role at The Lake Merritt. His philosophy is to incorporate, whenever possible, local and regionally grown foods. He is extremely conscientious about the nutritional needs of our population. Cook said, “I love cooking for the residents and they must love it too because they keep coming back for more!”

Not only do we have delicious food, we also have in our possession one of Oakland’s best kept secrets. The Terrace Room is known to many as a little gem, tucked inside our community with its panoramic views of Lake Merritt. In the 1930s and 1940s the Terrace Room was the city’s trendy hot spot, featuring great cocktails and dining along with dancing and Big Bands, including the famed Count Basie.

I mention The Terrace Room because it has been beneficial in helping us fight off social isolation. During this pandemic we have been following CDC recommendations, including wearing masks and social distancing. However, it is important to remember that mental health also cannot be overlooked. Such a “Catch-22,” but that’s where our “little” gem comes in.

The Terrace Room is over 4,000 square feet! It has high ceilings, great ventilation and windows that open directly onto the lake. It can seat 300 people! Because of this large space we are able to spread the dining tables out and distance them eight feet apart. Thus, we have created seating for all our residents who can dine at a distance from each other and yet they are still able to socialize. This beautiful restaurant allows us to meet the nutritional needs of our residents as well as allowing us to maintain socialization (with social distancing) that helps them stay emotionally, mentally and physically strong.

We look forward to the day when we can once again invite guests to join us in this lovely and historic restaurant. Until that time, everyone is grateful to have the opportunity to live here at The Lake Merritt where the food is delicious and residents don’t have to worry about feeling isolated.

 



 

Easy Walking Trails in Oakland – Our Secret Spots

By Tim Johnson
July 2020

There aren't many major cities where you can drive from the grocery store to the middle of a redwood forest in five to ten minutes, but here’s a little secret: You can in Oakland! Residents of The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living have been exploring our wonderful local parks in a safe and distanced way. The City of Oakland boasts nearly 6,000 acres of parks and trails, many of which connect to larger park networks. The East Bay Regional Parks features nearly 125,000 acres and has a very good website that is continuously updated with COVID-related closures and other information. We also use alltrails.com to search for easy hikes and read user reviews about trail width and busyness. You could walk for days without retracing your steps!

Recently, our residents enjoyed a great presentation by Stan Dodson, the founder of Oakland Trails (oaklandtrails.org) as part of our weekly public speaker series, “Topics of Merritt.” (This and our other Zoom programs are free and available to the public, so call us or register online). Dodson knows his local trails! He is a recipient of the Parkland Steward Award from Oakland Public Works, and the Anne Woodell Community Award, Oakland’s highest honor for community service in parks.

Dodson recommends visiting Oakland's gorgeous parks in the afternoon on weekdays to avoid crowds. He also recommended some easy and accessible trails within the Oakland City Parks system just for us.

On the Eastern side of Joaquin Miller Park there is a nearly flat maintenance road that can be accessed from a parking pullout on Skyline Boulevard near the Big Trees Trailhead. This road takes you through the redwood forest toward the Sequoia Horse Arena. This trail is wheelchair accessible and peaceful. Also within the nearby Sausal Creek watershed, Dodson recommends entering the Dimond Canyon Trail at El Centro Avenue. There you will find a flat, wide trail that attracts families and is suitable for nearly all abilities.

In addition to these spots, The Lake Merritt residents have several favorites to share with you. David particularly likes the Montclair Railroad Trail, the steepest part of which is a gentle ramp to get onto the trail (behind the Montclair Parking Garage). David says “the trail is not too crowded. It's very wide and paved and it’s flat. I could do one of those walks every day.”

Another series of trails we’ve visited more than once are in Redwood Regional Park. This gorgeous woodland features wide, paved trails, as well as an impressive network of dirt paths. We usually enter through Redwood Gate and explore the Stream Trail. Our resident Jusy says "there are times when I come back from our nature walks feeling almost ecstatic."

If you’d like to do even more research on area walks and trails you can view Dodson’s two short films through Oakland Trails. This all-volunteer organization is dedicated to promoting, maintaining and enhancing the City of Oakland’s wildland parks and trails. Trailhead is Dodson’s first film. It provides an overview of Oakland’s largest wildland trail system that connects neighborhoods to redwood forests. Old Survivor, Dodson’s second film, highlights the only remaining old-growth redwood tree in the East Bay hills and tells the story of Oakland’s resilient, ecologically amazing and now-protected redwood forest. Both documentaries can be viewed for free and are found at oaklandtrails.org.

It is possible for older adults and families to enjoy easy and immersive nature walks in Oakland. They are food for the soul. Get out and enjoy the rest of the summer.

 



 

Fresh Air Again!

By Tim Johnson
June 2020

We’re all very glad to be able to get out of the house! Due to the nature of the Covid-19 virus, we have been living in confined spaces due to the “shelter in place” limits since mid-March. Our governor and local officials are carefully easing restrictions. At our community, we’ve learned to take the proper precautions for our health and at the same time start to get some essential physical activity and breathe some fresh air again!

Those living at The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living are starting to venture out a little bit more. Yet, we are cautious. Our residents have been going on outings in small groups with a focus on locations where we can take nature walks and also take advantage of Oakland’s newly-launched “Slow Streets” program. The new program is designed to make a difference for everyone who wants to walk in our City for exercise and at the same time experience safe physical distancing. The innovation is that it takes advantage of the current lack of traffic on many of our urban streets.

Oakland is hailed by many as a walker’s paradise. Our community’s location in the National Walk Score database, which is a measure of the most walkable cities in America, ranks us at an impressive 96 out of 100.

With so many Oaklanders enjoying the lake, one our walking group members told me “right now, we are finding roads less travelled.” Just last week our resident Pat became happier because the City of Oakland closed 20 miles of streets to through traffic using soft barriers. Physically-distant activities (at least six feet of space apart from each other) including walking, wheelchair rolling, jogging and biking across the City are nearby for urban residents. Just two blocks away, the beautiful, leafy Alice Street is now designated a Slow Street.

In addition, the residents are taking walks that have flat trails, beauty and other interesting features. Our resident Dave is enthusiastic, “We go for walks in the middle of the week.” He added, “the Montclair Railroad Trail is not too crowded. It’s very wide and is paved and flat. I could do one of those walks every day as long as there are trees!" Another resident added, “There are times when I come back (from the nature walks) feeling almost ecstatic."

Our resident Judy said that she loves walking on a trail somewhere in nature. The Bridgeview Trail walk was “marvelous!” and yet she added that “walking around our neighborhood right after sunset seems to be a very good, quiet time.” We recently did a Temescal/Rockridge area Slow Streets walk. Pat continued, "We saw all the spring flowers with interesting gardens. We particularly enjoyed a garden filled with toy dinosaurs! In general, Oakland residents have been very aware of us as a small group of older adults and made a point to keep their distance,” she concluded.

As national publications, health departments and official studies begin to offer advice about how to reopen our country safely, we are actively participating. We are wearing our masks, practicing safe distancing and also enjoying spring and building our health and well-being at the same time. Oakland’s beautiful nature areas and Slow Streets, give us a chance to see each other, walk together and to finally get some fresh air!

 



 

Our ESL Program Zooms Along

By Tim Johnson
June 2020

If you were to visit The Lake Merritt on a Friday morning, (prior to COVID-19 and sheltering in place), you would see students from Laney College improving their conversational English-speaking skills with an unlikely group of volunteers: the residents of The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living.

Our community is located just blocks from this college campus and in the past, we welcomed five to twenty students into our building. The students arrived each week and practiced their conversational skills as part of Laney’s ESL (English as a Second Language) program. While conversing with our residents they gained extra practice and personal assistance while learning English.

The Lake Merritt’s Program Director, Ryan Wilcox, set up the ESL program at the community more than five years ago. The program partners adult students who are just learning English with our resident volunteers for one-on-one conversations.

“It has been a great way for our residents to feel like they are helping the community,” Wilcox said. “Plus, the social interaction brings our residents a lot of joy. They feel that they can make a real contribution to the every-day lives of these students.”

Our participation in the Laney ESL program stopped abruptly in March when the Coronavirus struck, leaving a small vacuum in both the lives of the residents and the students they were helping. Wilcox thought that since our community was offering exercise classes and other presentations over the video conferencing platform Zoom, why not reboot the ESL program? Today, each resident is the host for their own conversational meeting via the internet. There are also a number of benefits for residents as they get more familiar with the web and using Zoom technology,” Wilcox said.

"Zoom came along at the ideal moment for the ESL program while we’ve been sheltering in place," said Meghan, a resident who has been providing English tutoring for the past 40 years. “Working with these ESL students on the split screen, where we can see each other and interact in realtime is the kind of civic work that I really enjoy. I love teaching English and helping others get more confident in their communication skills.”

Wilcox concurs. “Many of the ESL students are recent immigrants to the U.S. and few of them speak English outside the school setting. Especially during the pandemic, their opportunities to practice their English are very few. Our residents are providing some students with the only chance they get all week to speak English with a native speaker.”

Judy has been a resident for four and a half years and has been participating in the Lake Merritt’s ESL volunteer program since she moved in. “I’m very happy that we're able to carry on with the program using Zoom. Otherwise, with the current restrictions, we couldn't continue and these are great students...they're so motivated!”

Volunteering is rewarding. It makes you feel like you are accomplishing something and that you are giving back while helping people. A 2003 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on “The Effects of Volunteering on the Well-Being of Older Adults” showed that older adults who volunteer report higher levels of well-being. Our resident Gloria added, “It’s a great way to help. Yes, it’s more difficult when you are not meeting in person, face to face, but it's necessary.”

In the isolated environment we are currently living in, we all need to find ways to connect with other people. Wilcox’s plan to reinvigorate his already popular program via Zoom is an innovation for us and a welcome hit with both residents and ESL students.

 



 

We’re Bored Now!

By Tim Johnson
April 2020

We humans are generally a social species, so during these times of “shelter-in-place” we need to discover new ways to avoid isolation. For the residents of The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living community, walking down by the lake and keeping a six-foot distance seems to work. Waving at people, blowing kisses and “air hugs” can be nice too, but we need more.

Our program director, Ryan Wilcox has tapped into the “Zoom craze,” and our Thursday afternoon speaker series, Topics of Merritt is now open to everyone outside of our residential community! Topics from each live event range from guest speakers on “Broadway’s Legendary Lyricists” to “Stress Reduction Using Eastern Movement Traditions.” If you would like to tune in via Zoom, just email info@thelakemerrittsenior.com and ask to be put on our mailing list. We will send you the information for you to join in!

Because of this pandemic, performing arts venues and museums have been temporarily shut down leaving a cultural vacuum. The silver lining is that many of these venues have been finding ways to share their work digitally. Performances are being live-streamed, archival material is being rediscovered, and broadcast and social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook are being transformed into makeshift stages and concert halls. If you are stuck at home and yearning for the performing arts, there is plenty online.

Nightly Metropolitan Opera Streams:
Every day the Met brightens our lives with a different encore presentation available for free through the end of April.
https://www.metopera.org/user-information/nightly-met-opera-streams/

Great Theater, Dance and Classical Music:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/arts/theater-dance-classical-art-stay-home-virus.html?referringSource=articleShare

YouTube has a plethora of recorded full-length musicals from Broadway and regional theater companies. Plus, there is no shortage of concerts from your favorite recording stars as well.

Here are a few to get you started:

My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies - Full Concert - 1998 Carnegie Hall
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlBM1ZUBGBg

“Les Miserables” - 10th Anniversary Dream Cast in Concert
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oqa49h4HWgg

“Phantom of the Opera” - 2017
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mREzIBmOpBY

Live webcams are great and will keep you entertained for hours at a time!

We are big fans of the Cal Falcons Web Cams! Starting in 2016 a pair of peregrine falcons, the worlds fastest birds, found a unique nesting spot on the top of the historic Campanile on the UC Berkeley campus. The pair returned again for the spring nesting season and three eggs just hatched successfully. The young chics, now covered in fluffy feathers made their debut last week. Follow their journey which features three webcams at https://calfalcons.berkeley.edu/webcams/?fbclid=IwAR36ncsC_EbCstcoEN5sTjoybf0rXVssyb678NGRFKbG4UntAJlen_DAS_g

Other terrific cameras featuring birds are
Eagle Bird Cam: http://www.decoraheaglecamalerts.com/video.htm
Redtail Hawk: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/red-tailed-hawks/
Monterey Bay Aquarium: https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/live-cams

Are you missing out on your annual pilgrimage to Yosemite? Did your trip to the Pyramids get postponed? Was this the year you were planning to go to the British Museum in London? No need to fret. Your computer will help you explore some of the world’s most beautiful sights and amazing landmarks right from the comfort of your couch. Go to Google and type into the search bar “Google Treks” or “Virtual Landmark Tours” and fasten your seatbelt!

We are being told that “there is a light at the end of the tunnel” and we know we will eventually get through these abnormal times. Yet, it’s nice to know there are art, culture and worlds to explore right at your fingertips! Stay safe and be well.

 

 



 

Pets are the Best

By Tim Johnson
March 2020

For me there is nothing better than walking in the front door at the end of my day and being greeted by my pets. My dog Karl-Riley brings me one of his toys and he makes me believe that I am the only one who has been on his mind all day long. My cat Lily sits on the table calling out to me to be noticed until I provide the required scratching under her chin she seeks. Nothing compares to the joy of coming home to loyal companions.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the unconditional love of a pet can do more than keep you company. Pets may also decrease stress, improve heart health and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that pets can reduce loneliness and depression, increase feelings of social support and boost your mood.

The NIH is funding large-scale surveys to find out about how people’s relationships with their pets affect their health.. “We’re trying to tap into the subjective quality of the relationship with the animal - that part of the bond that people feel with animals - and how that translates into health benefits,” explains Dr. James Griffin, an expert at NIH.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) states there are many health benefits of owning a pet including increased opportunities to get outside and exercise.

At The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living we welcome residents and their pets into our community. With National Walk Score of 97, walking around our neighborhood and the lake makes this the perfect place to live. Our residents with pets concur!Pam is the owner Hudson, a nine year old labradoodle. He is the star of The Lake Merritt’s current television commercials. Pam has had Hudson since he was a puppy and their love for each other is boundless. She told me regardless of how her day is going Hudson is always there to brighten her spirits. Pam admitted that Hudson “inspires exercise” because of his four walks per day. “He gets me up and out for our walks and that’s a good thing!”

Phyllis adopted Honey six years ago from the SPCA. While she definitely appreciates the physical fitness walks she gets with Honey, she considers Honey her “emotional support” dog. “She is a constant companion to me and has the ability to improve my mood with a wag of her tail,” Phyllis said. “It’s a pleasure watching her interact with and get pets from other residents. Everyone loves her!”

Sally is Laura’s 15-year-old cat. “I talk to her and she listens,” Laura said. “When I am upset she notices and she jumps into my lap and purrs. She makes me happy. As an added bonus she sleeps at the foot and my bed and keeps my feet warm at night!”

Harry rules the roost in Pete and Madeline's home. “We adopted Harry from Berkeley Rescue five years ago because we decided there was room in our hearts for another ‘kid,’” Pete said. Harry is very persuasive, though not demanding. When he wants treats he goes directly to the cupboard and scratches at the door. We call him our exercise guru because he forces us to take him on walks four times a day. We often take him on long nature walks with us. When he’s had enough walking, Harry uses his gift of persuasion to get picked up and carried for awhile. Just like a kid!”

In today’s climate when seniors are being “encouraged” to refrain from attending group gatherings, pets not only get you outside for fresh air and sunshine, they can be a wonderful emotional support.

 



 

Life Lessons from Yoga

By Tim Johnson
January 2020

 

I recently celebrated my birthday and though most 80 year-olds might consider me a youngster, I actually qualify for a senior discount at several restaurants. After a knee injury last fall, I started to realize just how far along on the “senior spectrum” I am! Numerous physical therapy sessions helped demonstrate to me that my once robust muscles had started to fail me.

While it was definitely helpful, I’m not a huge fan of physical therapy's “no pain, no gain” approach. I began to look at alternative, less painful ways to help rebuild my muscles and found that the answer was right under my nose. The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living has a very experienced yoga instructor, Bethany Hobbs, who offers classes for our residents, so I asked her, “Why yoga, and would it help my situation?”

“Yoga is all about paying attention to your body,” Hobbs explained. “When working with an injury, the yogic approach is to look at the whole body because everything is interrelated. You will notice when you are over or under-using parts of your body to compensate for an injury, Yoga also helps increase self awareness,” she added.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the physical demands, efficacy and safety of yoga for older adults have not been well studied. However, researchers from the University of Southern California’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy conducted a study using biomechanical methods to measure the physical demands of yoga in 20 older adults.

The researchers found that yoga programs that address individual-specific training and rehabilitation goals in seniors are beneficial. The information derived from this study has been shown to help guide yoga instructors to select well-balanced poses, target a variety of functionally important muscle groups and avoid overloading others.

I asked Hobbs about her experiences offering yoga classes for older adults at The Lake Merritt. “One of the most important benefits is the capacity to increase balance,'' she said. “People hold themselves differently and their posture has improved. There are also specific exercises to maintain strength for their hands and arms and to improve core muscles in the event one does find oneself on the floor! Yoga addresses the whole body, which enables the practitioner to help the body’s processes and it can frequently be a factor in reducing inflammation, stress and agitation, for example.”

Because yoga has the flexibility to adapt one’s needs, it has become popular with older adults. I asked some of our residents what Hobbs’ classes have done for them.

One resident said, “I’ve never done yoga before. It’s a great way to exercise and it’s good to have the encouragement of the group.” Another shared with me, “As a person with Parkinson’s, and knowing there are no drugs to help, I have found Bethany’s yoga class helps me improve and hopefully slows down the advancement of the disease.”

Others were quick to add that Hobbs sees each person individually and knows a person’s limitations. “She helps balance my mind and body,” a resident explained. All seem to agree that in her class, “Bethany Hobbs inspires perfection and grace.”

What can be better than that?

 



 

Holiday Traditions with Family and Friends

By Tim Johnson 
December 2019

When most of us look to our winter holiday celebrations, especially Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, we often think of our favorite traditions.

Some family traditions might include delivering baked goods to the neighbors, while other people might visit a Christmas tree farm and choose a tree. Volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter with friends is a beautiful tradition many people share.

After college I teamed up with a group of five other singers. For seven years we sang Christmas carols at Costa Mesa’s Saks Fifth Avenue during the holiday season beginning right after Thanksgiving. Besides making extra money for holiday shopping, this became an annual holiday tradition we shared together.

I asked some of our residents about holiday traditions they cherished. Vicki told me that lighting the Menorah candles, eating latkes and singing Hanukkah songs with her family and friends was always fun and delicious! It remains to her a very special time of year.

Laura remembered a special tradition from when she was a young girl. She was part of a “prolific” Southern family. Every Christmas 70 family members gathered at her Grandma’s house. There were always lots of presents and family delicacies she only ate once a year. It was something she looked forward to all year long.

Pat grew up in Australia. As a teenager she loved Christmas on the beach! Barbequed lamb chops, (complete with added sand), was what she would expect. Spending the holiday surfing, combing for shells and looking at tide pools were just a few of her family’s activities. To this day, Pat is happy on the beach, winter or summer!

Meghan and her husband attended an annual dinner party with three other couples. The cuisine would vary from year to year and each couple contributed to the meal. After dinner they would read a play together. The friendships they created by celebrating this unique tradition lasted for many years and will always remain in her heart.

My advice to all in this busy time of year is to keep your holiday traditions alive - these special activities often produce the fondest memories that you will cherish throughout your entire life.

 



 

Keeping Your Brain Sharp with Brain Aerobics

Keeping Your Brain Sharp with Brain Aerobics
by Tim Johnson
November 2019

Scientist Dr. Carl Sagan said that, “The brain is like a muscle and when we use it we feel very good.” As with any muscle, our brain needs exercise to stay strong, and as we age, we can guard against memory loss with daily memory exercises. I’m not talking about one’s routine of completing the daily crossword puzzle or an occasional Sudoku game, though these games can be fun. I want to introduce you to the practice of “brain aerobics” -– a kind of mental gymnastics for your brain!

Brain aerobics are activities designed to stretch your brain in a new way. To qualify, an activity must keep you engaged using more than one of your senses and break an established routine.

Some brain aerobics activities might include reading something new, learning a new language, studying and playing a musical instrument or taking a dance class. At The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living in Oakland we’ve taken brain aerobics to a new level.

Recently, our residents were playing a kind of improvisational brain game called “Never Have I Ever!” The game encourages people to respond quickly to a wide variety of randomly selected prompts using facts from their pasts, or they can make up stories to see if the crowd can tell the difference.

Judy was doing her improv by spinning an elaborate yarn about a time when she cut her own hair and styled it into a wild shag hairdo. The details were so crisp, you could almost smell the Aqua Net. Yet, this event never actually happened.

Judy’s fellow residents in the audience were rapt. “She’s definitely telling the truth,” someone said. 100 percent of the crowd agreed that Judy’s story was true. When she revealed that the story was fabricated, the group fell into laughter and applause.

“It’s the improv,” she told me. “I never would have been able to do that before The Lake Merritt’s class instructor, actor and comedian Langstyn’s improv class. Different details just started popping into my head.”

A growing body of scientific studies point to the positive mental, emotional and social benefits of improv. University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Gordon Bermant notes that in improv "fear of failure loses its sting — a net of support is constructed from the openness, trust, and acceptance” during the exercises.

“The beauty of improv is that there’s no wrong answer,” said instructor Langstyn. “You can be yourself…or someone else. A lot of life is so structured out. This class keeps people attentive, aware and thinking on their feet.”

Langstyn has quickly become one of the most popular people at The Lake Merritt. Judging by the turnout and the howling laughter coming from the class, improv is exhilarating for mind and spirit. So, try a new card game, take an art class, and begin something new. It’s a whole lot more fun than your average game of Sudoku!

 



 

Ministry of Loneliness - Part 2

Ministry of Loneliness - Part 2
by Johanna Leonard
October 2019

In April of last year, I wrote about Britain’s newly-appointed Minister of Loneliness (please see the complete blog in our archives). I wanted to follow-up on this program and see what they were doing.

The Commission was launched in 2017 and they discovered startling statistics. One third of all older adults had not communicated with another person for at least 30 days or more. Many of these older adults were isolated in that they lived alone in their home and had little contact with the outside world for a variety of reasons, such as disability, general health, etc. Here in the U.S., The New York Times got on board and did research here. They reported on “An Epidemic of Loneliness,” in our country and the AARP’s (The American Association of Retired Persons) research found that loneliness was a “significant predictor of poor health.”

Just a few months ago, the Ministry of Loneliness announced its new initiative called “Let’s Talk Loneliness.” The purpose of the initiative is to create a culture where people are comfortable in talking about loneliness. I The government is now working alongside many charities to help people realize the importance of recognizing loneliness in themselves and others.

In addition to a lot of public service announcements, the Ministry is also investing one million pounds in a “Tech to Connect Challenge Prize” which is a competition to award prizes of between £10 and £100 to people who find tech solutions to the problem of social isolation. The focus is on the positive power of social media to drive change and combat loneliness.The winners and runners up will be announced in March of 2020. I’ll keep you posted!

This focus on technology is concerning to me, as technology can often be the cause of loneliness, not the solution. We all need to remember to see the people behind the posts on social media and emails. So in that vein, I was pleased to see the English government is also investing £800,000 in another new initiative that supports activity in community spaces to promote social connections. This investment is being matched by the charitable arm of one of the nation’s largest grocery stores: the Co-Op Foundation, which supports projects that make a difference to local communities near to the supermarket’s branches.

The BBC and public transportation companies are also getting in on the act. The BBC promoted its own initiative “Crossing Divides on the Move.” This campaign invites conversations between commuters on public transportation in an effort to fight loneliness. Some train companies have created “chat carriages” to promote conversations and a few bus companies are placing conversation starter recommendations on each bus seat. This may seem a bit hokey to some, but if it helps one person, so be it.

It is great to see the government, charities and businesses all jumping in to address this loneliness epidemic, yet I think it really is going to take all of us to resolve this situation. We all need to remember that technology cannot solve these issues in a vacuum. Yes, it is wonderful that you sent an email to say hi to a friend or family member, but it is the deeper connection that really matters. We can use technology to communicate, but I believe we need face-to-face interactions to address loneliness. As for me, I plan to invite someone to lunch this week.