Older adults serve a vital role in our community. They are pillars of our families, our faith communities, and the relationships that bind us together. We all hope that our later years will be filled with safety, security, and opportunities to share and give back the wisdom this life has afforded us. For some of the seniors in our community, though, their experience is one of worry, loneliness, isolation, and the stress that comes with it.
The AARP estimates that more than 8 million Americans above the age of 50 live in isolation. They may have limited transportation, have a hard time getting around, or just not have enough people in their life they can regularly talk to. Sometimes an injury or health scare makes it hard to keep doing the things they once did, or sometimes entering those years of retirement can make it feel like they aren’t sure what their role is anymore. In truth, it doesn’t matter what causes the isolation. The effect is the same.
The dangers of being isolated for older adults aren’t just emotional ones. Isolation is actually toxic for our health. In fact, the AARP suggests that prolonged isolation is just as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Our brains and bodies are not designed to be alone, and even with all the wonders of modern medicine, we don’t have a pill that takes away loneliness.
No matter our age, we all have a role to play in helping to build relationships with the older adults in our community. It can start as simply as reaching out to our neighbor or family members that we haven’t talked to in a while. Try setting up a regular time to check in with that person. I think you’ll find, as I have, that we have as much to gain from interactions with older adults as they do.
If you are an older adult, you can start to take steps to help reduce the isolation you may be feeling. It can be hard, but getting connected to a community can be a powerful tool in your life. Whether you look to your church, your neighborhood association, your grandchild’s school, or even a nonprofit organization that you support, there are opportunities all around to get connected into things that are bigger than us.
Focusing on health, both physically and emotionally, has to be a priority for seniors, and understanding the role that relationships with others has in that is critical. We all know that an apple a day may be able to keep the doctor away. It turns out, that a conversation a day may do just the same thing. If you want more information about how stress and trauma are impacting our community and what you can do to change it, visit www.aliveandwellstl.com.
By Joe Yancey
Chair of the Community Advisory Board of the St. Louis Regional Health Commission
Executive Director of Places for People