*This blog was modified from a published article in the Senior Living Guide: http://online.flipbuilder.com/upar/gakn/#p=28
Today, one of the most challenging and rapidly increasing health threats for at-risk older adults is social isolation. The season of Valentine’s is considered an ideal time to connect with friends and family, and to reach out to those who may be without a network of family and friends. The gift of personal- human touch through social interaction is a gift that provides meaning, purpose and the opportunity for spiritual enrichment.
According to an AARP 2012 study, social detachment is as bad for our health as smoking, and even worse than obesity. Isolation is the experience of diminished social connectedness- meaning a lack of connection measured by quality, type, frequency and emotional satisfaction of social ties (Elder & Retrum, 2012). The physical, mental and emotional effects of loneliness have consequences on our personal quality of life and for the wider community. In contrast, social engagement in meaningful activities is central to a healthy lifestyle and a key aspect to eliminating the negative impacts of isolation (Eakman, Carlson, & Clark, 2010; Power et al., 2007).
The causes of social isolation are varied and include: limited knowledge of opportunities for social interaction and resources; lack of transportation; feeling unsafe; and a void of meaningful activities or local events (Cornwell & Waite, 2009; Findlay & Cartwright, 2002; King, 2006; Rosenbloom, 2009). In addition, the environment and community where we live plays a significant role. For example, expanding communities can inadvertently create separations between where we live and the services and amenities we use for recreation and social engagement. Complicating this is often an inadequate transit system which restricts those with limited mobility or access to transportation even further (Buffel & Phillipson, 2012; Hayden, 2009; Day, 2006; Fobker & Grotz, 2006).
Increasing access to quality programs, services and organizations, help us to better connect as a society. This can be either digital (web-based) or in person- such as a meet up group, club or volunteer activity.
This Valentine’s season why not consider giving the gift of Engagement? This can also mean understanding the local resources right at your finger tips through your local Area Agency on Aging. The state of Virginia has 25 of them that service the entire Commonwealth. Here is how you find the one closest to you and your loved one: http://www.vda.virginia.gov/findservices.asp.
Even more importantly, this Valentine’s season, one of love and compassion, take an opportunity to reach out to your neighbors, colleagues or friends for a cup of tea or coffee, a catch up phone call or a to share a meal; give the gift of sharing yourself with someone else.