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Connecting Hearts: Overcoming Isolation for Our Older Adults

by Arlene Schiff 
In our fast-paced world, the effects of isolation on the mental and physical health of our older adults and seniors have become increasingly evident. Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Social isolation and loneliness do not always go hand in hand. About 28 percent of older adults in the United States, or 13.8 million people live alone, but many of them are not lonely or socially isolated. However, those who find themselves unexpectedly alone due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation, worsening vision or hearing problems are at particular risk.1 At the same time, some people feel lonely despite being surrounded by family and friends.

Fortunately, there are various ways to counteract these negative effects. Engaging in meaningful, productive activities with others tends to boost mood, maintain well-being, and may improve cognitive function. Some options for staying connected include joining a community center, volunteering, attending religious services, participating in group activities such as book clubs, and taking classes. Join a cause and get involved in your community, stay physically active, join a walking club.

In addition to these traditional methods, the power of technology can be a lifeline for those seeking connection in the comfort of their homes. Platforms like Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and Teams offer virtual face-to-face interactions, bridging the gap between loved ones and combating the loneliness that isolation can bring. If you’re not tech-savvy, sign up for an online or in-person class at your local public library or community center to help you learn how to use email or social media.

For those seeking physical activity and mental stimulation, virtual exercise programs are a fantastic option. Book clubs, whether in person or virtual, provide an opportunity for seniors to engage in conversations and share their love for reading.

Caregiver support groups offer a vital space for those caring for seniors to share experiences, seek advice, and find emotional support. Knowing that they are not alone in their journey can be incredibly comforting for caregivers, contributing to their overall well-being.

It is important to let older adults know that they are loved and valued. A simple phone call, a letter, or a visit can make a big difference in their lives. There are also many organizations that provide support and resources for older adults, such as the National Council on Aging and AARP.

The isolation of older adults doesn't have to lead to a decline in mental and physical health. Embracing technology and exploring various options for socialization, along with traditional methods, can make a significant difference. Let's ensure our seniors are aware of these alternatives, empowering them to stay connected, engaged, and, most importantly, loved.

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