Most people say they want to age at home, but there’s a funny thing about that. Although folks want to stay in familiar surroundings to be near friends and family, too many people as they get older find themselves stranded in their own neighborhoods, suffering from a shrinking social network.
In this first post of three on isolation among the aged, we’re going to explore this topic. We’ll learn why, for older adults, isolation is a big and growing problem, how it affects their health, what we can do about it, and the paradox of aging at home: can it actually foster isolation?
We’ll learn from AARP Foundation’s Walter Woods, a vice president, programs–Isolation Impact Area.
“Isolation is made up of social connectedness and perceived isolation or loneliness, both objective and subjective parts,” says Woods. “We believe that about 1 in 5 people 50 and older are at risk.”
At risk of losing “supportive friends and family, meaningful activities in which to engage, opportunities to socialize, and the necessary support and resources to be able to maintain your health — such as transportation and access to health and other information,” he says.
“Either way, there are serious, sometimes deadly consequences. It’s important for all of us to build and maintain both support systems and interests or activities that engage us throughout our lives,” says Woods.
Researchers think the numbers of the older “isolated” are rising steadily, for several reasons. Most obviously, there are more old people, living to be older than ever before.Transportation is often limited, the suburbs were built for driving, social systems are inadequate, poverty is an ever-present threat, technology is a mixed bag, and society itself is changing.
“Due to the rapid extension in the human lifespan,” Woods explains, “we’re now struggling with what role older adults play in our society. When you retire at age 65 but still have perhaps 20 years of life ahead of you, what do you do to continue to feel like you contribute and matter? How do you carve out that meaning and role for yourself while you’re facing a culture that tells you you’re mostly irrelevant once you get to be a certain age?”
Isolation also has a larger social cost. ” Just like everyone else, older adults have skills, talents, knowledge, and much more that can enrich the lives of those around them and improve their communities – except unlike most others around them, older adults also have a lifetime of accumulated experiences to draw upon and in most cases, a lot of free time,” says Woods.
“But, we’re hopeful that we’ll start to see shifts as the Baby Boomers get older,” he continues. “That cohort has rarely let ‘business as usual’ get in its way, and we expect to see new and creative models for aging start to emerge and proliferate.”
In short, healthy aging includes social and emotional well-being … and as we’ll learn in my next post, taking care of social health has significance for physical health as well. Finding ways to boost social connectedness can boost well-being, in a virtuous cycle that’s a lot more fun, meaningful and healthy.
This is a great article, some of you may relate with this piece more then you would care to admit. Go to Post 50 to read this fully, it may help you feel less isolated.