It’s easy to take “water cooler” chats, running into a neighbor at the grocery store, or even arguing with your spouse over the remote for granted when it’s your everyday life. But with 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, many of our aging loved ones are becoming socially isolated – alone and feeling forgotten.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau 11 million, or 28% of people aged 65 and older, lived alone in 2010. As people get older, their likelihood of living alone only increases.
Even the most introverted of us have social and emotional needs. Quite alarming, loneliness has been scientifically linked not only to making us sick, it is killing us. Loneliness is a serious health risk. Studies of elderly people and social isolation concluded that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely. The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking.
Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Loneliness is breaking our hearts, but as a culture we rarely talk about it.
Geriatricians note more research is needed to identify how to reach older adults who are socially isolated or lonely, and how to best reduce social isolation and its harmful effect.
What we do know is having regular interaction with family and friends with access to reliable transportation – a strong support system – is vital ones mental, physical and emotional health.
Group exercise programs are a wonderfully effective way to reduce isolation and boost physical and mental health. There are many programs available at senior centers that offer aerobic or lower-impact, like stretching.
Studies also suggest that staying socially active by joining book clubs or church groups may add years to a person’s life after retirement.
Of course, one should never rule out the possibility of moving in to a more supportive place where there are daily activities and a sense of community.
At Aldersgate, one of the most common themes we hear from new residents is “why didn’t we do this sooner?” Friendships are forged every day around the dining table, through book clubs, cultural events and the heated indoor swimming pool.
But is a Life Plan Community right for you? You can always test the waters with online research or visiting a community. However, most importantly, make sure you or your loved one has a plan and adequate support. At Aldersgate, we recognize our elders are interesting, creative, loving and fun-loving individuals. None of these qualities diminish with age. In fact, in retirement, we have more time to discover and rediscover. No matter what your age, you have something important to contribute to society. Like so many other international cultures, our nation needs to honor the wisdom of our elders. They are not to be forgotten, but beloved.