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Breakout from Isolation

 

Isolation from family, friends and the community isn’t something to take lightly with older adults; it’s a silent killer in our community every single day.

It’s the 76-year-old man whose wife died last year; the 83-year-old woman who moved far from family for a better job late in her career only to find herself retired and alone; the 68-year-old terrified of dementia-like symptoms and an evaporating ability to drive; and the couple whose failing health leave them house-bound — one recovering from a serious injury or hip replacement, and the other frail and exhausted as caregiver.

One out of three adults over 65 years old lives alone, and social isolation is on the rise, right alongside other related statistics, such as depression, alcohol abuse and suicide. The numbers are staggering. Studies also directly link isolation and loneliness with poor health and early death, and they are major predictors of seniors needing long-term care and entering nursing homes, according to the British Columbia Ministry of Health research.

Remaining an active participant in the community is not only critical to mental health, but also a key component of successful aging with the highest level of health, vitality and energy possible, according to Dr. Roger Landry, author of “Live Long, Die Short.” It has an unexpectedly strong impact on physical health.

  • Identify and contact local community sources who can connect you with important resources and activities. Contacting local agencies who care about seniors, such as Sun Health, Benevilla and theArea Agency on Aging, can provide a wealth of local community resources and benefits. Nearby libraries, churches and community centers are also a great way to learn about community events, support groups, classes, activities and volunteer opportunities.
  • Create a sense of purpose. Older adults who enjoy a hobby, or other regular activities, are less likely to feel lonely or isolated. A great place to begin is to think about what you enjoy and make a list of activities and hobbies that might interest you. Then, look in the newspapers, azcentral.com and meetup.com for things to do related to these interests. A simple Google search for your interest with words like “groups” or “clubs” and your city can also identify opportunities. For example, “knitting groups Glendale” or “cooking clubs in Sun City West.” Hands On Greater Phoenix has a useful website to identify opportunities to volunteer, if giving back is an attractive idea and, for those who love animals, aaaphx.org has an elder resource guide with companion-pet resources that might be helpful.
  • Solve major barriers to activity, such as transportation issues. For seniors who can no longer drive, a bit of research can uncover multiple transportation resources. Difficulty or inability driving is a common cause of isolation. Northwest Valley Connect is an example of one community source to connect West Valley residents with free or low-cost transportation. If a medical issue such as incontinence is causing isolation due to fear of an accident in public, this can often be addressed by medical attention, medication or dietary changes, or by easing anxiety with a “go bag” that includes a change of clothing, adult diapers and wipes, or other supplies.
  • Break inertia with small steps. Sometimes, isolation is a result of habit, and small changes can be all that’s needed to break old patterns and encourage social mingling. Action of any kind can create the motivation to be more social, such as sitting on the porch to soak up sun (vitamin D), practicing deep-breathing techniques, calling a loved one or reading. Even a magazine, word search, crossword puzzle or simple craft can help someone connect with their creative side and replace old habits with something new.

Reducing senior isolation isn’t about what we do, it’s about getting out of the house and interacting with other people. Many allow their own stereotypes and assumptions about aging hold them back. But whether it’s age-related, poor health, mobility or some other reason, the secret to reducing isolation is to start somewhere.

Go ahead. Take the first step right now.

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