Recently in a series of interviews we conducted with some of our FiftyForward members, we were disheartened by what we heard about feelings of isolation:
"Those four walls can feel like a prison," said Loretta, who now visits a center in her community a couple of times a week to simply socialize and play cards, which she says is her passion. "FiftyForward has become my family."
Bob said he comes to FiftyForward because it gives him something to do. "I am lucky. I can still drive and can get around, but there are many guys like me who need to get out ... to do something."
Gloria explains that her visits to the center offer her the chance to exercise. In addition, she says, "I have met some really great people."
TC says, "You can only watch so much 'Gunsmoke' ... you gotta get out."
Luckily, these members sought out social interaction through joining a lifelong learning center. Social connections are vital to our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Illness or age-related mobility issues, including losing driving privileges, can create roadblocks for anyone. When such setbacks become realities in the life of an older adult, these individuals may become isolated. And isolation can be a killer.
Numerous studies point to the fact that isolation leads to loneliness, health decline and earlier morbidity. What can we do to help?
Visit with older adults. Offer to take them to the store, church or other gathering places for interaction. Senior centers and community centers offer myriad opportunities for classes, programs and may spark new friendships.
Encourage volunteerism. Volunteering is beneficial to both the volunteer and the recipient. Older adults have many years of life experience and talents that can benefit others and the community.
Take a class. Learning new things at any age opens windows of opportunity. Many older adults have discovered their artistic side in their later years including writing, painting, drawing, quilting, knitting and crocheting and Bridge to name a few.
Embrace technology. Phone contact and Web interaction (Skype, FaceTime, for example) can often serve as a lifeline. In addition, many older adults may feel isolated due to hearing loss. Simply providing a hearing aid or assistive device can reduce loneliness and improve communication for someone who is hearing impaired.
Get physical. Yoga, dance and Tai Chi are all activities offered at a number of community centers including at FiftyForward lifelong learning locations in Middle Tennessee. Learn what's in your backyard and how you can help yourself or others get involved.
You can be the eyes and ears for your friends and loved ones to recognize the signs of isolation. Some of the risk factors that lead to isolation include: living alone (especially women who generally outlive husbands and/or partners), driving cessation, health conditions and/or disability, hearing loss, impaired eyesight or other sensory impairment. Contact a senior center nearest you to find assistance, programming and services to help a friend, loved one or yourself combat isolation.
Susan Sizemore is the communications director at FiftyForward. Learn more about FiftyForward at (615) 743-3400 or online at FiftyForward.org.