WHAT DO THE HOLIDAYS HAVE TO DO WITH THE LONELINESS EPIDEMIC?

It is thought that the holidays are spent with loved ones and friends. From gift-giving to sharing fine meals, the holidays are synonymous with festive and happy gatherings across the world. However, not everyone looks forward to the holidays. Especially folks that are alone or isolated from their families and friends. This is a season that is supposed to be about happiness and the human spirit. However, for many loneliness gets worse during the holidays. Feelings of isolation deepen when it seems everyone else is surrounded by family and friends. Dealing with loneliness around this time can lead to depression, obesity, and more. It does seem like the loneliness epidemic does get worse during the holidays, but there may be some good news when it comes to treating loneliness.

The Loneliness Epidemic

Whether due to family issues, work-related problems, or society in general, loneliness is rapidly becoming an epidemic across the nation and globe. In fact, a recent study by the Angus Reid Institute found that nearly half of Canadians find themselves alone around the holiday season. Similarly, the number of Americans who feel alone and isolated has tripled since 1985. Industry experts have stated that while praying to God is an ideal solution, it does not negate the growing existence of loneliness for people from all walks of life. With persistent loneliness on the rise, alcoholism and binge-eating seem to be on the rise as well.

>READ: WHAT FACTORS DRIVE WOMEN TO BINGE EATING AT NIGHT?

This is because lonely people tend to feed their emotional problems with food or alcohol. This provides temporary happiness and a break from the norm — loneliness. The rise of social media has also contributed to this mess. We as humans have become digitized and de-sensitized in many ways, which has led to increased feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

Is There a Cure?

The loneliness epidemic is all too real. Whether the blame falls on social media, western politics or the rise of populism/individualism, more people are alone today than ever before. Several case studies and surveys cement the signs and symptoms of isolation. As mentioned earlier, overeating and alcohol abuse is a way for some folks to substitute feeling good for feelings of being alone, neglected or unwanted. However, did you know that researchers are working on a pill to combat loneliness?

What Does the Study Show?

The University of Chicago’s Brain Dynamics Library conducted the study over an eight-week period with placebo or pregnenolone. The latter is a hormone naturally produced by the body’s adrenal gland. The research team monitored participants who consumed both placebo and pregnenolone. Two hours after swallowing the tablets, participants looked at photos of emotional faces and neutral images.

>READ: FEELING LONELY? YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE

Study volunteers conducted tests measuring the scale of loneliness. They found that many respondents had no one they could speak to in times of crisis. Many of their relationships felt superficial, forced and unreal. These respondents also stated they feel alone, isolated, and can no longer hold meaningful relationships with loved ones or friends. Similar studies in animals showed that pregnenolone can reduce threat responses and reactions to feelings of isolation. The latter is one of the main reasons for increased anxiety and panic attacks in humans. It also comes down to fear of the future, death or the unknown.

What Does This Mean for Loneliness and the Holidays?

While the drug cannot formally cure loneliness, developers believe it will reduce feelings of loneliness in human brains. The lead researcher on the project, Stephanie Cacioppo, a reputable neuroscientist, and her team have found that loneliness is not so much about self-preservation or ego. It is simply a desire to connect with others. The idea of the drug is to help people see and accept things as they are — rather than being skeptical of everyone and everything.The drug is still in the study and testing phase so we will have to see how it turns out in the near or distant future.

This holiday season if you are alone there are some things you can try.

Check out our guide for making friends in the digital age.
Consider volunteering. This will allow you to meet new people and increase good feelings since you will be helping others.
If you are dealing with feelings of self-harm this season or if you are self-medicating please reach out to a help group or counselor today.
Take care of yourself and be willing to ask for help if you feel you need it.

BEAT HOLIDAY LONELINESS AND HOST FRIENDSGIVING

We love our holidays in the U.S. so much we are creating informal ones to give us more to celebrate! Friendsgiving is a day where friends come together to eat and enjoy each other’s company. From the combination of the words, you can tell it is a blend of ‘friends’ and ‘Thanksgiving.’ Usually, the participants will share a large meal near or on Thanksgiving day. Some people are serious about Friendsgiving celebrations: there are how-tos, sample menus, and even “rules” for Friendsgiving. However, the day can be as involved or as simple as you would like! Pick and choose from our Friendsgiving ideas below to host a fabulous Friendsgiving event this year.

Why Host a Friendsgiving Meal?

Many women over 50 may wish to spend time with their family on holidays. Sometimes, their children or other family members can live far away though. It may be their year to spend with their spouse’s family. This makes it difficult to get together during the holidays. If this is the case the holidays may be lonely. However, hosting Friendsgiving can benefit mature Americans in many ways including:

  • Gathering with friends that they may not have seen in years
  • The chance to meet new people and make new friends in their community – invite “strays” in your office, neighborhood or groups
  • Learn new cooking skills and taste new meals
  • Indulge in recapping old memories
  • Those who may otherwise be alone for the holidays will get to spend time with people they actually like and start new traditions

Friendsgiving Ideas for Hosting

Friendsgiving celebrations are a day to focus on friends! Especially for people who may be missing family, you will want to wow them so they won’t feel like they’re missing anything. You can unleash the recipe you have been working on and invite some of your friends to showcase their skills. Food is a vital part of any Thanksgiving, and so should be vital to Friendsgiving as well. Traditional foods such as turkey and mashed potatoes can be an option. But remember the essence and value of all of you being together, so spend time celebrating instead of cooking elaborate dishes. It is advisable that you go for easy recipes, have ready-made food, and ensure you spend most of your time sharing the moments precisely as these Friendsgiving ideas indicate. Or, invite everyone early and cook all the dishes together (while maybe drinking wine and playing some danceable/singable music.)

If the thought of cooking at all seems too stressful, so many places offer catered feasts these days…from your local grocery stores, to restaurants, to the group off nextdoor that sells fried turkeys. Order in and laugh at how easy it all is.

>READ: THE MEANING OF FRIENDSHIP: SMALL CIRCLE, BIG SUPPORT

Friendsgiving Activities to Entertain Guests

When planning this celebration, many activity ideas come to mind. Have some fun, research and learn what will be appealing to the people you are inviting. You need ideas that will work with all your friends attending. Some of these unique ideas may include:

  • Make the meal a potluck! Ask everyone to bring their favorite Thanksgiving dish and a story about why it is their favorite. This will be a sweet way to think of Thanksgiving pasts.
  • Have a cookie decorating contest. Provide plain Thanksgiving-themed sugar cookies and some decorations then vote on the best cookie.
  • Volunteer for a few hours as a group. Serve food in a food kitchen, walk dogs at the local animal shelter, or spend time volunteering at a children’s hospital. Everyone will be hungry for a great meal after an afternoon spent giving back.
  • Make your own party favors. Provide some small gourds and craft supplies so people can create their own Friendsgiving masterpiece or set up a photo station and send people home with instant photos of the day.
  • Plan a wine pairing and tasting to try new types of wine and encourage conversation among guests about their favorite combinations.
  • Host after hours or a day later and serve the leftovers – If your friends are spending the big day with family, host it after and let people bring whatever’s left from that feast, including all ready open bottles of spirits. It’s the ultimate in casual fun.

>READ: 12 TIPS FOR HOSTING A DINNER PARTY AND WINE PAIRING

Add an Extra Touch with Friendsgiving Decor!

You may want to be creative with the décor you set up for this day. For example, you can choose a unique color theme. Fall colors can be monotonous. You can break away by setting up totally a different theme color, like copper and green or navy and trendy rose gold. There is no standard Friendsgiving color, and you are free to try anything! Or purchase potted plants for a nice table centerpiece, either synthetic or live. Besides this, you can also purchase additional items to add a special touch of celebration for this day, like candles, name cards and fall-themed napkins. We’ve included some of our favorite options below!

 

Can Early Brain Development Predict Autism in Toddlers?

In the larger context of neuroscience research and treatment, there is currently a big push within the field of neurodegenerative diseases to be able to detect the biomarkers of these conditions before patients are diagnosed, at a time when preventive efforts are possible.  In Parkinson’s for instance, we know that once a person is diagnosed, they’ve already lost a substantial portion of the dopamine receptors in their brain, making treatment less effective.  The idea with autism is similar; once autism is diagnosed at age 2-3 years, the brain has already begun to change substantially.

So – this begs the question: Can we find a way to identify which infants are at risk to be diagnosed with autism before 24 months of age?

A  first-of-its-kind study at University of North Carolina Health Care was recently conducted on high-risk babies – those who have older siblings with autism.  Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) were used to image the brains of infants, and then researchers used brain measurements and a computer algorithm to accurately predict autism before symptoms set in.  Researchers from around the country were able to correctly predict 80 percent of those infants who would later meet criteria for autism at two years of age.

The study shows that early brain development biomarkers could be very useful in identifying babies at the highest risk for autism before behavioral symptoms emerge.  Typically, the earliest an autism diagnosis can be made is between ages two and three.  But for babies with older autistic siblings, the MRI imaging approach may help predict during the first year of life which babies are most likely to receive an autism diagnosis at 24 months.

The research project included hundreds of children from across the country and was led by researchers at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) at the University of North Carolina.  The project’s other clinical sites included the University of Washington, Washington University in St. Louis, and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  Other key collaborators are McGill University, the University of Alberta, the University of Minnesota, the College of Charleston, and New York University.

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (or ASD) have characteristic social deficits and demonstrate a range of ritualistic, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors.  It is estimated that one out of 68 children develop autism in the United States.  For infants with older siblings with autism, the risk may be as high as 20 out of every 100 births.  There are about 3 million people with autism in the United States and tens of millions around the world.

Despite much research, it has been impossible to identify those at ultra-high risk for autism prior to 24 months of age, which is the earliest time when the hallmark behavioral characteristics of ASD can be observed and a diagnosis made in most children.

For this study, researchers from around the country conducted MRI scans of infants at six, 12, and 24 months of age.  They found that the babies who developed autism experienced a hyper-expansion of brain surface area from six to 12 months, as compared to babies who had an older sibling with autism but did not themselves show evidence of the condition at 24 months of age. Increased growth rate of surface area in the first year of life was linked to increased growth rate of overall brain volume in the second year of life.  Brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year.  Previous behavioral studies of infants who later developed autism — who had older siblings with autism -revealed that social behaviors typical of autism emerge during the second year of life.

The researchers then took these data — MRIs of brain volume, surface area, cortical thickness at 6 and 12 months of age, and sex of the infants — and used a computer program to identify a way to classify babies most likely to meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age. The computer program developed the best algorithm to accomplish this, and the researchers applied the algorithm to a separate set of study participants.

The researchers found that brain differences at 6 and 12 months of age in infants with older siblings with autism correctly predicted eight out of ten infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age in comparison to those infants with older ASD siblings who did not meet criteria for autism at 24 months.  This means we potentially can identify infants who will later develop autism, before the symptoms of autism begin to consolidate into a diagnosis.

If parents have a child with autism and then have a second child, such a test might be clinically useful in identifying infants at highest risk for developing this condition.  The idea would be to then intervene ‘pre-symptomatically’ before the emergence of the defining symptoms of autism.

Research could then begin to examine the effect of interventions on children during a period before the syndrome is present and when the brain is most malleable.  Such interventions may have a greater chance of improving outcomes than treatments started after diagnosis.

Until this new research, there hasn’t been a way to detect the biomarkers of autism before the condition sets in and symptoms develop.  Now there is very promising leads that suggest this may in fact be possible.