Human beings have a basic need for social connections. We are wired to look for each other's company and form groups to meet this need. As more people turn 65 and older, isolation as an issue among older adults is growing at a rapid rate.
What is isolation among the aging? What are some consequences? How does it happen? And how can isolation be avoided or remedied?
AARP The Magazine says that isolation is not a disease or a mental illness. Isolation can be defined as setting someone apart from other people or other things, a state of separation, quarantine, or someone who is separated from their extended environment to the point of having few gratifying, rewarding relationships. Older adults can be socially isolated if they have little contact with others, see this level as inadequate, and/or the limited contact has negative consequences for them.
Isolation can and does lead to higher death rates from breast cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and other chronic diseases. Research tells us that lack of socialization is as bad as smoking and is worse for our health than being obese. Some researchers say that isolation is fatal.
As people get older their social relationships often change in ways they hadn't planned. After a lifetime of looking forward to retirement, many people no longer have a daily routine. They no longer see the people they had seen and known on a daily basis for many years. Adult children have grown and moved away to find employment, taking grandchildren, potential supports, with them. Friends have moved to warmer climates or have passed away. Neighborhoods have changed to homes with younger, very busy neighbors who work all day and drive children to after-school activities in the evenings. In most cases social supports increase throughout our lives, but by our 60s our social networks begin to decrease.
Some other reasons older adults become isolated are loss of a spouse, living in a rural setting, living alone, illness, injury, cognitive impairment, lower income, lack of transportation options and being the caregiver of a spouse or partner. If a crisis or illness/injury worsens it is easy to become homebound, disconnected overwhelmed, stranded and isolated.
There are ways aging adults can avoid isolation. "A Purpose in Life Can Prevent Isolation" written by Beck Squires for AARP tells us that people want their lives to matter and to have made a difference. For people of all ages, identifying and having a purpose is what gets us up in the morning, energizes us and give us passion; but more so later in life. For some people taking care of their pets or grandchildren gives them that sense of purpose. In others it maybe rekindling an interest or hobby. Having regular contact with older family members, friends and neighbors can help cure isolation. Other ways to beat isolation are volunteer opportunities and involvement in groups at churches or local senior centers.
Check the Aging & Disability Resource Center of Central Wisconsin's Monthly Guide for activities in your area. The Monthly Guide can also be found online at www.adrc-cw.com.
Congregate meal sites, where a hot noon meal is served in a social setting, are offered in many places throughout Lincoln, Langlade, Marathon and Wood counties. Also, look for support groups for caregivers, grief or bereavement support and Alzheimer's support groups. Check for fitness programs in your area and transportation available to get people to and from these activities.
For more information on the Aging & Disability Resource Center of Central Wisconsin or resources in the area, please call 888-486-9545 or visit www.adrc-cw.com.