Guest post by Carol Marak
Not all retirees are ready to withdraw completely. Today, more than ever, seniors want to stay involved in the community because they understand that social isolation is a health risk. While at work, they could count on their full-time job for friendships, and after retirement, the individual feels disconnected from their built-in social circle. The work connections vanish. And if a retiree doesn’t fill the void with newly formed bonds, loneliness and isolation become the new companion.
The results of social isolation:
- The psychologist Robert Bornstein, co-author of How to Age in Place, says if people become lonely and isolated in retirement, the feelings produce a “downward spiral.”
- John Cacioppo, a social neuroscientist, says the brain senses isolation or rejection as real threats, just like pain, hunger, or thirst. The effects of such threats put the mind into “self-preservation” mode that could carry startling results, keeping the body on elevated alert, which increases cortisol and plays havoc on the sleep patterns.
- Social isolation can be as threatening as obesity, according to new research. There are close to 60 million Americans affected by this invisible epidemic, and scientists say that chronic loneliness poses a severe health risk.
Social Disconnect Vanishes Within Mixed Generations
If your nonprofit helps children, consider expanding programs that include intergenerational connections. When you do, magic happens. Since our culture tends to isolate and connect with online networks, your organization holds the key to creating approaches that deal with pressing community needs.
Intergenerational strategies can forge a path of respect and reciprocity. Over time, our culture has lost the greatest resource that mixed generations offer—a give and receive arrangement across the lifespan. Each person, no matter their age, will need and require help at various stages of their lives. Mixed generational programs mandate that we identify the inherent strength of each age group and their need to connect.
Recently, Seniorcare.com published a volunteer guide that promotes helping older adults and the elderly. Facts that you may not know about the senior population:
- 45% of women age 75+ live alone
- 28% (12.1 million) of noninstitutionalized older persons live alone (8.4 million women, 3.7 million men)
- 21% of Americans age 65+ no longer drive. The non-drivers have little ability to participate in local events
- Hunger threatens over 9 million seniors
- 1 million homebound older people are malnourished
Since isolation is a significant issue, in particular for older seniors living in suburbia and rural areas, let’s think of ways to support them through local volunteer opportunities. I asked the Seniorcare.com Aging Council, “What opportunities can help enhance social connection for all ages?” Here’s what they said:
“We need more person-to-person volunteer programs like the “adopt a grandparent.” But more importantly, we need to help the elderly to engage and to volunteer. If an agency/program could coordinate the transportation, people living in rural areas could be involved.” – Shannon Martin and AgingWisely.
“A great way for rural or homebound seniors to feel connected is using technology to attend virtually the local senior center! A deeper friendship can grow via telephone, email, social media or video chat, even with children. Participating with peers will relieve loneliness and give a sense of purpose.” – Kathy Birkett, SeniorCareCorner.
“We need a diverse transportation option to meet the needs of older adults who require a safe, affordable and convenient transport. Tapping into the growing cohort of retirees could be a way to increase volunteer driving programs and provide a local solution for rides.” – Harsh Wanigaratne, Spedsta.
“One of my clients obtained help from the local church. The volunteers from the church made visitations to her home, offered rides, lawn care, minor home repairs, power washing, etc.” – David Mordehi, Advise & Protect.
What is your nonprofit’s experience? Do you offer intergenerational programs that solve social issues for both children and adults? If so, please share what you and the participants learned.
About the author:
Carol Marak is an Aging Advocate, Columnist, and Editor at SeniorCare.com. She’s earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from the University of CA, Davis. Contact Carol at Carol@SeniorCare.com.