There is an epidemic of loneliness among older adults in the United States and around the world.
More than half of elderly people live alone, a majority of these in the same suburban communities where they have lived for decades. However, many of these communities are not designed to support the needs of aging members to keep them engaged and connected which is vital to one’s health and well-being.
As a result, over 40% of senior citizens experience loneliness, and it is negatively affecting their quality of life.
Loneliness is a common source of “distress, suffering, and impaired quality of life” for adults older than 60.
Loneliness is a predictor of “functional decline and death.”
Loneliness has a comparable risk factor for early death to smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
Fact sheet on elder loneliness:
How is loneliness measured?
Dr. Daniel Russell at UCLA developed a 30-question “Loneliness Scale” to measure just how lonely a person is.
Below is a 10-question sample used by the AARP. Take the Loneliness Quiz to measure your own loneliness!
What causes social isolation and loneliness?
Poor physical or mental health
Poorly designed communities
The loss of a friend or partner
A depleted social network
Limited opportunities to engage with others
Pandemic lockdown and quarantine requirements
Each of these disadvantages puts a person at high risk for social isolation and loneliness which then puts them at high risk for mental health issues and disease.
The Response: Adopt-an-Elder
I would like to begin a community programming initiative called “Adopt an Elder” to support the mental health of our growing elderly population to keep them engaged, active, and connected. Staying socially active and engaged in activities helps to prevent depression and improve overall health and well-being.
Elderly community residents will be “Matched” with families in the community. These families will be encouraged to reach out regularly and to schedule activities with their adopted elders. Participants will focus on engaging and connecting with their adopted elders and will do their best to help them be active.
(Image: Paul Rogers for the New York Times)
Promoting social engagement and helping seniors maintain interpersonal relationships can reduce depression and improve health outcomes.
Being engaged is one of the building blocks of well-being. Engagement occurs on several levels, such as emotional and physical, and results in being “present” and experiencing “flow.”
- Volunteer together at a local charity
- Take your elder shopping
- Go to a museum
- Participate in community improvement programs
- Watch a TV series together
Well-being is improved not just through social contact, but through “meaningful” contact. By “adopting” one another, the relationship can gain importance and meaning over time by continuing to engage with one another and to have experiences and activities together.
- Have a weekly card game
- Cook a monthly meal together
- Listen to music together
- Create art together
- Share in a gratitude practice
Staying active helps both physical and mental well-being. Plus, exposure to sunlight increases vitamin-D which is really important for mental health.
- Take a walk
- Play pickleball
- Play golf
- Work in the garden
- Go fishing
Take Action: Commit to Connect
I would love to hear from you in supportive and constructive ways. Feedback on any part of this project is welcome in the comment box below. If you have further ideas on how to take action to help end elder isolation, please share them by clicking on the “Engage and Connect” button below.
>In what ways do you interact with and support the elderly members of your community?
>How can you take action and connect with the elders in your community?
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