Loneliness is a global problem that affects the physical, emotional, and mental health of people. According to a study conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah, USA, loneliness can increase the risk of death by up to 32% . Loneliness may even rival obesity and smoking, according to a survey conducted by health insurer Cigna .
As their chief medical officer Douglas Nemecek, MD puts it, “Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.” 
Health risks of chronic loneliness are vast as it’s been linked to increased blood pressure, anxiety, depression, poor immune systems, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, and even death .
While loneliness isn’t restricted to a particular age, studies have shown that 1 in 3 people over the age of 45 are lonely . As the severity of the problem becomes evident, more countries are taking the initiative and proffering solutions to help curb this problem. Last year, the Avon and Somerset Police Department, United Kingdom, set up “Chat Benches” in two local parks in southwest England. These benches were set up to help tackle these issues of loneliness, elder abuse, and social isolation.
Not soon after, a supermarket in the Netherlands, located in Vlijmen, has come up with unique ways to counter the rising problem of loneliness among the elderly – they recently launched two initiatives, the “All Together Coffee Corner,” and the “Chat Checkout.” 
The All Together Coffee Corner
The first initiative, The All Together Coffee Corner, offers the elderly the opportunity to chat with locals and volunteers of the “Alles Voor Mekaar” Foundation over a cup of coffee. This corner which was opened by Dutch Minister Hugo de Jonge, and 94-year-old Christien Smits provides elderly shoppers with the much-needed social interaction .
The volunteers of the Alles Voor Mekaar foundation, which is loosely translated as ‘Everything For Each Other,’ have played an integral part in the success of this initiative. They’ve been offering to shop with some elderly customers, lend a hand in their garden, or sit down to have a chat with them. One of the initiators of the Alles Voor Mekaar foundation, Alexander Van Weet said that the social corner would do a world of good for the elderly.
“We will also regularly sit down in the coffee corner and try to get in touch with people who need help. Just to look back at each other, that is the intention,” he said .
One of the volunteers, Liesbeth Geveling, meets Christien Smits, 94-year-old customer, every week. The two women who have become fast friends, have a drink, chat, and do some grocery shopping together.
“I go and have a drink with her or do some shopping, we’ve become real buddies,’ she says. “We will regularly visit the Coffee Corner to get into contact with those who are in need of some support. Just looking out for each other.”
Taking this scheme forward, the supermarket in Vlijmen decided to introduce another initiative – the Chat Checkout. This grocery lane, which is the first of its kind in the world, allows the elderly who are not in a rush to have a little chat with the cashier. And what’s more? All cashiers are happy to be a part of this fantastic initiative.
“It is a new kind of cash register for people who are not in such a hurry and who may need a chat. We really expect a lot from it,” said Jumbo CEO Colette Cloosterman-van Eerd .
In an era where supermarkets are keen on accelerating customer’s shopping time and pushing towards self-service, Jumbo supermarket is breaking away from the norm with these unique initiatives. Hopefully, more supermarkets will key into beautiful programs like this to address the problem of loneliness among the elderly.
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