Help end isolation with connection
While we all can go through bouts of loneliness, seniors are particularly prone to social isolation with unplanned or tapered reductions in activities, visitors and energy. You, your family and friends can easily help those in your community fight through this by reaching out, engaging with them and making powerful social connections that add such fulfillment to all our lives.
Be a friendly visitor
The easiest way to fight isolation is to pay a good old fashioned vist! Bring a puzzle or game and add excitement to your interaction. Bring food! Sharing a meal together is an integral part of human connection. Meals on Wheels is national organization that understands that a meal is about more than just food. Volunteer with them and deliver healthy meals and hearty conversation to the isolated seniors in your community.
Senior living centers, while offering a community environment, can leave those without family or frequent visitors feeling very lonely. Visit one near you and engage with someone who needs a fresh face to talk to and a compassionate ear to listen. Get the kids involved through Adopt-a-Grandparent. Programs like these pair vibrant youth with local seniors who appreciate their childlike energy. The connection offers a sense of belonging for the senior, a sense of social responsibility for the child, and most importantly, a friendship for both.
Going online cannot replace interpersonal connection, but the Internet can certainly be a great tool to facilitate it, and keep you connected to family and friends. Introduce the unfamiliar to social media to help them connect with faraway friends via Facebook, or with people right in their own community with tools like Meetup.
The internet is also a great place to engage interests and passions. If there is an issue or topic that particularly ignites your friend, help him or her join a discussion board and learn more about new perspectives and developments in that area.
Write it down
Writing can be extremely therapeutic. Jotting down your thoughts and feelings is known to relieve stress, solve problems more effectively and generally improve your well-being. Encourage a lonely friend to take up journaling or share his or her thoughts with a pen pal.
There’s a special joy that comes from receiving a handwritten letter. Deliver that joy to someone you know that may be experiencing isolation, or encourage them to foster that connection with someone else. You can write to a faraway friend, a stranger in a foreign land through Friendship Through Education or an active member of the military through Operation Appreciation. Writing to a stranger can open your eyes to a whole new perspective. You may feel a special connection to them, and undoubtedly make their day.
From farmers markets and festivals to parades and outdoor concerts, small towns, suburbs and cities across the world understand the importance of community and human connection, and are doing things to fight isolation in their own town center. Make your farmers market more than a gathering of fresh fruits and vegetables; make it a place to share recipes. Get a local band to play. Serve hot chocolate and relish the healthy and harmonious communion of your neighbors.
Exercise has long been shown to improve not only your physical health, but your mental and emotional health as well. Start a walking group to combine exercising with socializing. Inspire friends and neighbors to join you and engage all your muscles, including your heart and brain. The benefits add up when you make fitness a social event.
One proven strategy in combatting isolation is sequential learning. Programs like Lifetime Arts’ Creative Aging in America’s Libraries offer a variety of art classes for older adults, from dance and drawing to sculpture and singing.
Taking a series of classes or workshops stimulates health, improves cognitive functioning and facilitates valuable interaction with fellow seniors. Find a program near you through organizations like the National Center for Creative Aging.
AARP Foundation is addressing the issue
AARP Foundation is taking a multifaceted approach to addressing the issue of social isolation including conducting vital research, building a shared vision among like-minded professionals, and collaborating and creating innovative solutions.
Ending social isolation is good for older adults, good for our communities, good for all of us.
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Safety first for seniors
Isolation can be dangerous. Check on seniors who live alone in your community and make sure they are prepared for emergencies, that their heat and A/C are functioning in extreme temperatures, and that their smoke detectors have fully-charged batteries. You might just save a life.