No man is an island – we are all social creatures

How the current isolation affects us and especially the most vulnerable

“I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone.
You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.”

Oscar Wilde

What a strange world we live in these days! Due to the outbreak of Covid-19 and the current pandemic, public authorities across Europe decided in March that social distancing measures are necessary to slow down the spread of the virus. Social distancing, also called ‘physical distancing’, means maintaining space between yourself and others.

But is physical isolation not directly linked to social or emotional isolation? What happens when the beneficial ‘alone time’ described by Oscar Wilde exceeds the quantity of time we would like to spend alone? How do the elderly or people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s perceive these times?

Loneliness is defined as a subjectively experienced aversive emotional state resulting from unfulfilled social needs [1]. Unlike depression or anxiety, loneliness is not clinically recognised; therefore, those who feel chronically isolated cannot be diagnosed or treated. However, loneliness makes us more susceptible to infections as it weakens the immune system.

How loneliness turns into disease

“Inflammation fuels disease processes in a host of devastating illnesses, including atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s and cancer. […] Inflammation is not the disease itself; rather, it serves as a kind of molecular fuel that helps the disease thrive and grow.” [3]

When we experience loneliness, our body produces a defensive reaction at the cellular level to prepare it for any coming dangers. A part of our defense capacity is used for this.

“Our bodies see loneliness as a mortal threat. When we’re alone, there’s no one to help us fight off that saber-tooth tiger or the hostile war party from the next village. Sensing that we are isolated and at risk, our bodies ramp up their defences in anticipation of the wounds and infections to come. It was a pretty good survival tactic thousands of years ago. In the modern world, though, it’s killing us.” [3]

Emotional and physical pain is processed similarly by the brain. Humans are social creatures and therefore, interactions and connections are crucial for us. Researchers think that throughout evolution pain signals could have been “borrowed” to alert when we are socially isolated. In one sentence: “We need to take social pain just as seriously as we do physical pain.” [3]

We live in an individually-oriented society

What happens if in these times you live alone, or an elder member of your family does? According to figures published by Eurostat in July 2018, 34% of households in the EU were single-person households.

“Sweden tops the chart with over half (51%) single households, followed by Denmark (44%) and Lithuania (43%). At the other end Malta had just 20% single households, 22% in Portugal and Slovakia.” [4]

With the current contact restrictions, all these people spend much more time alone than usual. What can we do now to support the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and those suffering from a disease?

It is very important to stay connected. If the isolated person is not familiar with social media or the most recent communication technologies such as Zoom or Skype, use the good old telephone. Call him or her, every day. Give some of your time, capital which many of us dispose of these days.

You know that your neighbour is part of the risk group but you have never talked to him or her before? What if you leave a message in their letterbox or in front of the door, proposing to go grocery shopping for them or taking their dog for a walk.

You can also suggest to an isolated, vulnerable family member or friend to listen to music or to get creative and try painting to feel less alone. All the senses are no longer stimulated without external input. Especially for the elderly, these factors can deteriorate their cognitive functions and directly affect their health.

In the framework of our European research project TeNDER, we are developing an integrated care model for patients with neurodegenerative diseases, mainly, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

TeNDER will be useful in the care pathways of remote monitoring and it will help increase patient autonomy. Relatives and caregivers will feel more secure as they can manage care remotely. All this happens without face-to-face contact, therefore the current risk of exposing them to contamination can be greatly reduced while the sense of safety on both sides and the interconnection are maintained.

As John Donne already wrote in a poem in 1624: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…” [8]

These reflections on solidarity seem still to be true 400 years later. No one suffers alone, we are in this together. Every crisis makes us stronger and this one certainly will, too.




[1] Peplau L, Perlman D. Loneliness: A Sourcebook of Current Theory, Research and Therapy. InterScience New York, 1982.

[2] Entis, L. ‘Scientists are working on a pill for loneliness’ Medium, 26.01.2019 [online] Available at: (Accessed: 15.04.2020).

[3] De Turenne, V. ‘The pain of chronic loneliness can be detrimental to your health’ UCLA Newsroom, 21.12.2016 [online] Available at: (Accessed: 15.04.2020).






TeNDER joins COVID-19 security research initiative

TeNDER has joined the Security Research Rapid Response to COVID19 (Sec3R) initiative. Sec3R gathers the expertise of various organisations, institutions, and projects to provide a knowledge platform for public authorities, emergency services, and researchers, among others.

The platform assembles trustworthy and free-to-use resources from within the security research community. These include tools that help secure communications, as well as others that combat growing misinformation surrounding the current pandemic.

In addition, Sec3R will bring together research, datasets, and information on COVID-19, cybersecurity, and other related subjects. Consult the website regularly to access continuously updated resources.

World Parkinson’s Day during COVID-19 outbreak

In 2016, The Lancet’s “Global Burden of Disease” report estimated that 6.1 million people were affected by Parkinson’s disease worldwide, with the number set to double by 2050.

Parkinson’s symptoms gradually develop as cells in a specific part of the brain are affected in ways that impact movement. Researchers across the world work on different dimensions of the disease: from seeking to understand the course of the disease and its possible triggers and predisposing factors, to developing treatments. In the realm of care, projects like TeNDER are working to extend the autonomy of patients with Parkinson’s disease, among others.

Every 11 April – on the anniversary of James Parkinson’s birthday, the physician who first identified the disease in 1817 – people worldwide coordinate to raise awareness of the condition and the social, economic and psychological impact it has on individuals and communities. However, efforts to rally support for patients, as well as for research and access to care, happen year-round. There are local, regional, national and global organisations anyone can reach out to for support.

This year, in the context of COVID-19, many awareness-raising campaigns will take place only online. And in addition to these, groups and organisations have mobilised to provide valuable information for patients with Parkinson’s disease and those who surround them. TeNDER consortium partner Asociación Parkinson Madrid (Madrid Parkinson Association), has adapted guidelines in Spanish for those affected; and the European Parkinson’s Disease Association has also gathered important resources in English.



Research contributes to the fight against COVID-19

In the context of COVID-19, TeNDER partners – particularly those who work directly with patients – are taking precautions to ensure the safety of patients, carers, health professionals, and the general population.

Spominčica – Alzheimer Slovenia, Servicio Madrileño de Salud, Asociación Parkinson Madrid, Schön Klinik and the University of Rome – Tor Vergata are currently implementing national and international COVID-19 health protocols (follow the links above to learn more).

While doctors, nurses, and other health professionals and staff are working tirelessly in the frontlines, researchers are working on developing curative and preventive care. Many are also studying behaviour, to help improve socio-economic policies and responses.

Advances in the fight against COVID-19 are aided by international research collaboration: research building on research – its successes and its failures. The European Commission has launched special actions to facilitate such efforts. Meanwhile, The Lancet has reported that research organisations across the world have formed a coalition to support resource-limited settings. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

To learn more about ongoing research worldwide, consult research university websites, the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 research database, etc. In addition several news sites and scholarly journals have opened access to COVID-19-related information.


For practical information on the impact of COVID-19 measures and on international guidelines, here are some additional external resources for specific groups; e.g., elderly people, patients with chronic diseases, etc.:


Disclaimer: the information provided in external links does not represent the views of TeNDER.