Media releases

December 6, 2016

VIRTUAL REALITY TO EASE CHRISTMAS LONELINESS

With recent Lifeline data finding three in five Australians1 are affected by loneliness, new research from Medibank has revealed the problem hits Aussies hardest at Christmas time.   

 

According to the research, three-quarters (76 per cent) of Aussies believe the festive season can be the loneliest time of year for some, with nearly one in two (43 per cent) saying they have been personally affected during this period.

 

While half (51 per cent) of those suffering from loneliness said they lean on friends and family for support, 42 per cent do nothing about their symptoms and wait for the feeling to pass. Additionally, one in five2 Aussies say that while they’re aware loved ones are struggling with loneliness, they’re yet to reach out to provide support.

 

Medibank Chief Medical Officer Dr Linda Swan said, “Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the festive season is a time when there’s an increased emphasis on family and togetherness -- which as a result, can heighten feelings of social isolation for some people. The impact of loneliness on health is becoming more recognised, and it’s important we as a community acknowledge this and support one another -- particularly at this time of year.”

 

Young Aussies most at risk

Two-thirds of Aussies (66 per cent) believe loneliness is a growing issue in Australia, with 78 per cent calling for more awareness of the problem. What’s more, despite common belief that the elderly are most at risk, young Aussies were found to be worst affected, with 83 per cent of 18-24 year olds experiencing times of loneliness, compared with just 51 per cent of 65-74 year olds.

 

Increased risk for those with health concerns

The research found nearly one in two Aussies (48 per cent) felt loneliness peaked when they were in poor health, and that loneliness was also likely to contribute to or worsen existing physical and mental health issues (87 per cent).

 

“Research is increasingly supporting these findings, with loneliness being linked to the development of several psychological and physiological conditions, including depressive symptoms, increased risk of cardiovascular issues, and a weakened immune system. However more than this, we’re learning that loneliness could also worsen existing health conditions. That’s why it’s important all Aussies -- particularly the loved ones of those with compromised health -- know of the very real impacts loneliness can have on a person, and make an effort to lessen  these outcomes,” said Dr Swan.

 

Of those surveyed, Aussies who’d been hospitalised for an extended time3 felt loneliness was particularly prevalent during their stay in hospital -- with three in five patients (59 per cent) saying they felt disconnected from loved ones, and 57 per cent feeling isolated, despite being surrounded by other patients, visitors and hospital staff.

 

Medibank brings Virtual Reality to hospital patients

With almost all patients (96 per cent) believing loneliness in hospital is likely to peak at Christmas time, Medibank has teamed up with Google and Virtual Reality specialists, Liminal, to launch ‘Joy’ -- an immersive storytelling experience for patients to enjoy over the festive season. Transporting patients into a virtual world, Joy provides an immersive audiovisual environment which helps alleviate feelings of loneliness and social isolation. 

 

Liminal Clinical Neuroscientist and Neuropsychologist, Sami Yamin, said “Medibank’s research shows many  hospital patients suffer from loneliness, but feel too unwell to do something about it. Knowing this, we’ve helped create an experience which transports patients from their current situation and allows them to feel unencumbered by their physical constraints for a while. Joy was conceived out of extensive research into the known alleviators of loneliness -- including pet therapy, bibliotherapy and the incorporation of nature scenes -- resulting in an experience which takes patients into a virtual world where they can feel comfort and connection.”

 

“Whether you or a loved one is unwell, living alone or simply in need of company, it’s important to remember that loneliness can affect anyone in any circumstance. And while we can do things to help, nothing beats a call or visit from a loved one -- especially during the festive season,” said Dr Swan.

 

If you are experiencing loneliness and are a Medibank member, call our Health Advice line on 1800 644 325 to speak to one of our registered nurses -- available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Medibank will be rolling out Joy in certain partner hospitals from today. To find out more about Joy, visit www.medibank.com.au/joy.


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