Alleviating Social Isolation – My Segment on Charlotte Today – 07/15/21
The pandemic caused social isolation for so many of us over the past 17 months, but it was especially hard on our seniors. So how are they doing now that things are opening back up and how can we all help them? Aging expert Anthony Cirillo has some suggestions to help our senior population.
First, how widespread is this isolation and what impact does it have on people? At least 30% of all seniors are not vaccinated and at least 8 million older people live alone. The AARP Foundation and the United Health Foundation conducted a study, which found that two-thirds of U.S. adults report experiencing social isolation and more than half agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused their anxiety level to increase. Studies have found that social isolation can be worse for one’s health than obesity, and the health risks are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The bottom line is older people feel socially isolated. Cirillo says “that this is impacting your love one in several ways.”
The AARP Foundation has a tool Connect2Affect (connect2affect.org) that offers an assessment test to determine whether you or loved ones are at risk. It asks questions like: Do you participate in social activities or organized groups at least once a week? Do you see or talk to a family member or a friend at least once a week? Under normal circumstances, do you ever have trouble finding transportation to get where you want ?Do you avoid socializing because it’s hard for you to understand conversations? If the answer are yes to any of these questions then your love one has been directly impacted.
So what can we do to help our love ones? Here are some suggestions from Cirillo. It’s important to build and maintain friendships. Stay involved in hobbies and activities. There are ways to also connect digitally. You may want to check out something we launched called Sage Stream (www.sagestream.live) that provides live stream programs to older adults daily. It’s important to talk to family and friends to develop a plan to safely stay in regular touch. Also create a list of community and faith-based organizations that you or the people in your plan can contact in the event you lack access to information, health care services, support and resources. Pets can help combat loneliness, and some pets have been linked with owners’ longevity. Do your research. Research transportation options.
Cirillo says “don’t forget older adults are not the only isolated, lonely people out there.” We all need to evaluate our emotions and talk about our feelings. We all have a role to play in addressing this complex issue, whether by seeking help ourselves or advising others to do so. It can also be beneficial to identify daily things that lessen social isolation. Take Small and manageable steps, such as setting regular communication with family, or taking a 15-minute nature walk, can help you measure progress at a slow but steady pace. For more information visit theagingexperience.com.