PREBLE COUNTY — We need social connection to thrive — no matter our age — but recent research shows that the negative health consequences of chronic isolation and loneliness may be especially harmful for older adults. When you open up your world to new people, sharing your time, talents and wisdom, it’s a win-win for you and your entire community.
The research shows that older adults who describe themselves as lonely have a 59 percent greater risk of functional decline and a 45 percent greater risk of death. About 29 percent of people age 65-plus live alone and twice as many women live alone as men. Almost 50 percent of older women age 75 plus live alone. But the biggest surprise is that two-thirds of the older adults in the UCSF study who said that they were lonely were either married or living with a partner. It’s not about how many relationships you have—it’s about how meaningful they are.
Recognizing that you feel isolated or that you’re having trouble maintaining a social network that meets your needs is the first step to improving quality of life.
Prolonged isolation can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Additional health effects of isolation and loneliness include,
• Chronic health conditions, such as heart disease
• Weekend immune system
• Depression and Anxiety
• Dementia (including Alzheimer’s)
• Admission to nursing homes
• Use of emergency services
It is literally bad for our health to feel isolated and lonely. Some factors that put us at greater risk are living alone, mobility or sensory impairment, major life transitions or losses, low income or limited financial resources, being a caregiver for someone with a serious condition, psychological or cognitive challenges, inadequate social support, and transportation access or lack of access, just to name a few.
The opposite of loneliness and isolation is connection. I don’t know if you’ve ever been lonely or isolated, but it’s like being hungry for something, but you don’t know what you’re hungry for. This form of hunger is elusive, mind boggling and real.
I want to highlight that studies have found that loneliness can be contagious, yikes! Like a cold or virus, one can catch loneliness. Check this out, studies have found that loneliness has a tendency to spread from person to person, due to negative social interactions and other factors. In other words, when one person is lonely, that loneliness is more likely to spread to friends or contacts of the lonely individual. Making matters worse, people have a tendency to further isolate people who are lonely because we have evolved to avoid threats to our social cohesion. Isolation at this level can be more complicated. For example, simply telling someone to engage in more social activities may not be enough. The solitary seniors have a tendency to further isolate themselves by pushing people away and not making efforts to engage with others. Considering our loved one’s needs as individuals is a valuable first step in figuring out how to prevent or combat isolation.
The first step in any process towards change is recognition. If you or a senior you know is experiencing loneliness, isolation, or having trouble maintaining a social network that meets your needs we have an answer.
We have seniors, especially in our rural parts of the county, who are craving human connection. Some are lucky to see a car drive by the farm let alone having human contact during the day. If you know of someone that is in need of connection let us know. If you have time to be a companion for a senior in our community, give Bev a call. We have a Senior Companionship Program in place that helps our Preble County Seniors stay in their homes and live independently by providing assistance with tasks of daily living and offering friendship and emotional support. This service provides in home companion and/or a daily telephone reassurance call. In addition, we have a plethora of social activities, Time Traveler Trips, we gladly provide transportation via our 16 drivers, 16 vans, plus two new wheel chair accessible mini-vans.
Remember, by choosing to connect with seniors, and people in general every day, we become a healthy, thriving community.
To stay up to date on all of our activities, trips and senior news sign up to receive our bi-monthly newsletter the “Senior Scene.” Membership at the Senior Center is $10 a year. In addition to other benefits, members automatically receive our bi-monthly “Senior Scene” newsletter which features all our latest news and activities, additional benefits are discounts on trips and select activities. Like our Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/preblecountycouncilonaging/ or give us a call at 937-456-4947. Visit our website at www.PrebleSeniorCenter.org.
Resource for this article: “Expand Your Cirlces” by Eldercare Locator.