As 2017 comes to a close, we at TEDMED are filled with both gratitude and reflection. This has been an exciting year in the world of health and medicine, with unprecedented advances in areas like gene editing and artificial intelligence, and groundbreaking research on diseases such as Zika and cancer. There have also been many challenges: opioid abuse and addiction continues to rise; funding for global health programs remains uncertain; and rates of loneliness and isolation are increasing and negatively impacting our health.
This last point feels particularly relevant during the holidays, when many of us take time off to celebrate and be with our friends and families. For those who feel alone, this can be an especially difficult time of year. In a survey of approximately 3,000 adults over the age of 45, AARP found that over one-third of respondents were lonely, due in part to a perceived lack of social support and a shrinking network of friends. This translates to roughly 42.6 million adults in the United States who suffer from chronic loneliness, which can be as significant a risk to mortality as commonly accepted factors like diabetes and hypertension.
By reaching out to and reconnecting with friends and family members this holiday season, you can improve your own health and that of your loved ones while also reducing loneliness. Studies compiled by Psychology Today show that strong social connectivity can strengthen our immune systems, increase self-esteem, and lower rates of anxiety and depression. Social connectivity can even reduce the risk of early death by up to 50%.
As our team prepares to unplug these next few weeks, we reached out to a few members of the extended TEDMED Community to learn more about their reflections from 2017, their hopes for 2018, and how they plan to connect with the important people in their lives this holiday season.
We asked: “When you reflect back on 2017, what do you see as some of the successes and challenges in health and medicine?”
“Looking back on 2017, advances in healthcare technology and treatments are incredibly inspiring,” said Karen Hogan, 2017 Hive Innovator and Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Biorealize. “I was also excited to see not only advances in healthcare related to physical illness, but also a more broad discussion emerging on a holistic approach to treating emotional and mental wellness in the same light.”
She continued, “A major challenge, and one that worries me, is what appears to be an ever increasing divide among those that can afford access to healthcare and those that cannot. I believe access to healthcare is a human right and I hope to see that mentality more broadly adopted in 2018.”
Access to health was also on the mind for Heidi Allen, a 2017 TEDMED Speaker and Associate Professor of Social Work at Columbia University who specializes in health insurance policy.
“[This year] brought a considerable amount of uncertainty related to the future of the Affordable Care Act. It seems that every other week there was a ‘repeal and replace’ proposal in Congress that appeared inevitable,” Heidi said. “I imagine this ambiguity was particularly difficult for patients in the midst of a health crisis. Concerns about losing their insurance mid-treatment and the consequences of having a pre-existing without the protections of the ACA must have occupied the minds of many Americans.”
Pediatric endocrinologist and 2017 TEDMED Speaker Ximena Lopez told us that following a year during which she often felt despair in the face of what she described as a lack of scientific and medical progress, “hearing the speakers at TEDMED 2017 gave me hope about humanity.”
“I have been involved with a number of prevention initiatives and speaking opportunities around this—including of course the TEDMED talk,” he said. “There is a real opportunity to change the whole way that we view drug use in Canada but it is discouraging at times to see how stigma and apathy make progress so difficult and cloud our common sense.”
We also asked “What do you hope for in health and medicine in 2018?”
“In 2018 I hope that we create efficiencies in how consumers and healthcare organizations can find out about the great work that many researchers and entrepreneurs are working on,” said Jo Schneier, 2017 Hive Innovator and CEO and Co-Founder of Cognotion. “There are so many breakthroughs happening but getting them into people’s hands is my dream for 2018.”
Heidi said, “I hope that 2018 will bring policy-makers from across the political spectrum to the same table. We are going to need tremendous creativity and courage from our leaders if we are going to reduce systemic health care costs without doing so on the backs of the poor or the sick.”
For Sophie Andrews, 2017 TEDMED Speaker and CEO of The Silver Line, the outlook is simple. “Winston Churchill famously said, ‘We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give,’” she said. “So I guess that means we shouldn’t lose sight of the simple stuff too, and those simple acts of kindness on a global scale will affect all of us and make the world a healthier and happier place to live in.”
Finally, we asked: “As the new year approaches, what are your plans to connect with your loved ones, and with yourself?”
Sophie said, “My plans are fairly simple—to see as many loved ones as I can and take the time to pick the phone up to people I might have neglected. The bigger the New Year resolution is, the more likely you fail, so I’m going to do better at keeping in touch with people in 2018 and cherish time with special people more.”
She continued, “I’ll ask myself each week ‘how many conversations have I had this week that are not related to work?’ because it’s a healthy check to make sure I’m not becoming a work bore, and that it hasn’t taken over!”
Ximena emphasized the opportunity to use this time for teaching the value of togetherness. “I hope to be able to teach my son the importance of spending the holidays with family and your loved ones.”
Mark said he plans to spend time unplugging and being active with his family. “Holidays are a great time to reflect and scheme about how to connect better with those you love. Family activities will be central to this in the new year—cross-country skiing and mountain biking are rather new family activities that involve fresh mountain air and no screens or keyboards.”
Finally, for Jo, it’s all about community. “I live in a rare neighborhood in NYC where all the neighbors know each other. We are planning on bringing in the New Year with our community at one of our neighbor’s houses. It is something I am very grateful for!”
We hope you find these insights from our speakers as valuable and thought-provoking as we do. From all of us here at TEDMED, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season filled with much joy and of course, meaningful connections. We look forward to reconnecting in the new year.