We all have holiday memories of large family gatherings, food, gifts and the company of others. However, as the years go by our picture-perfect holidays can change. For older adults, traveling to see family isn’t always easy and for some the loss of a spouse is especially hard around the holiday season. No one wants to be a burden by asking friends and family to travel during inclement weather, but no one should spend the holidays alone.
It isn’t uncommon to start to feel isolated when we should be feeling merry. In fact, the U.S. Census estimates that 28% of adults 65 and older were living alone in 2010. A recent opinion column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times highlights the devastating effects of loneliness. Kristof proclaims, “Isolation isn’t just depressing. It can be deadly.” Kristof sites recent research published by Julianne Holt-Lundstad of Brigham Yong University stating, “social isolation is more lethal than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Loneliness has been tied to increases in inflammation, heart disease, dementia and death rates. Kristof goes on to highlight Loneliness as the new ‘silent killer’ and poses a question about what can be done. He mentions that Great Britain has even gone so far as to appoint a minister for loneliness. The post was created in effort to bring awareness to one of the greatest public health challenges of our time while seeking to find a solution. But the solution may lie within all of us.
Loneliness can affect anyone no matter the age, adults 65 and older are at an increased risk. So, what can one do to stave off the effects of social isolation? The short answer is to become part of a community and to get involved. As our social circles diminish and we lose loved ones, it’s up to all of us to stay connected. Over time the houses we live in age and our neighborhoods change. Staying in the home and ‘holding down the fort’ isn’t doing our health any favors. Humans are social creatures and if our environment no longer supports us, we owe it to ourselves to seek new refuge. Living at a community like Shaker Pointe comes with all the built-in benefits. Our residents have countless ways to become involved right at their fingertips. We have groups that volunteer locally, residents who play Mahjong together, book groups, and so much more. Even something as simple as enjoying complimentary coffee in our lounge or getting the paper at our front desk puts our residents into social situations as soon as they open their doors.
This holiday season give a gift to yourself and your loved ones by making communication a priority in the new year. Reach out and talk to your family on a regular basis. Technology has made it easier than ever to have face-to-face communication without having to put on your boots. See if moving to a senior living community is right for you. Talk to our residents, talk to your friends and neighbors who have made the move. We hear from residents all the time who wish they made the move sooner.
In Kristof’s article he leaves readers with his hope, sharing findings that greater social connection is associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death. Proving that the prescription for the cure to loneliness is within everyone’s reach if we all just take that first step to reach out.