Many people feel overwhelmed during the holidays — there’s so much to plan, and do, and places to go.
For others, the holidays can enhance feelings of isolation. And loneliness can lead to serious health consequences.
Research tells us that social contacts tend to decrease as we age for a variety of reasons, including lack of mobility and retirement. Regardless of the causes of isolation, the consequences can be alarming and harmful. Even perceived social isolation — the feeling that you are lonely — is a struggle for too many older people.
Awareness of the problem is the first step. Here are seven things you can do today to help yourself and others combat social isolation and promote healthy aging.
1. Volunteer: Promote a sense of purpose
People of all ages with a sense of purpose or hobbies that interest them are less likely to succumb to social isolation. Volunteering is one great way of maintaining and expressing a sense of purpose. The Pima Council on Aging (PCOA) offers many volunteer opportunities for older adults that can help elders maintain their sense of purpose. Find out more online at www.pcoa.org/volunteer
2. Access transportation for connections and independence
Having access to public transportation or other modes of affordable transportation are keys to connecting to local programs and resources, and can help people feel more independent. PCOA’s Neighbors Care Alliance — a network of more than 20 neighborhood-based volunteer groups — promotes the value of neighbors helping neighbors, including friendly visits, as one way to maintain social connections and a healthy sense of independence. For information about the PCOA Neighbors Care Alliance call (520) 258-5063.
3. Be more involved in the community
Attend local events at a local recreation center or enroll in a class. These are excellent ways for people of all ages to stay engaged in our community and give individuals a purpose.
4. Encourage exercise
Let’s face it, exercise and moving our bodies releases endorphins, reduces stress and just makes us feel good. PCOA offers a series of five evidence-based health-promotion programs for those 60 and older, in collaboration with community partners. These programs are designed to help older adults manage their personal health, stay fit, and maintain or improve their quality of life. Class schedules and registration details are online at www.pcoa.org/services/healthy-living or call PCOA Health Promotion at (520) 305-3410.
5. Keep up health-care visits
Part of staying healthy and social is about preventative health and being aware of any health problems that may arise. Routine doctor visits go a long way to addressing health problems that can cause older adults to withdraw and become isolated.
6. Encourage dining with others
Everyone needs to eat, which is why dining is one of the most enjoyable and significant occasions for people across different cultures. In fact, dining is often one of the most important elements found in recreation centers. PCOA provides funds for nutrition programs in partnership with a robust network of 13 centers where congregate meals are served. Learn more about the PCOA Lunch Program online at www.pcoa.org/services/meals-and-nutrition .
7. Make family and friend interactions a priority
Humans are wired to interact and socialize, and caregiver specialists say older adults especially need these interactions as they age. Some of the most important parts of life are about emotional connections and having reasons to be useful. PCOA Family Caregiver Support Groups are open to anyone providing care for those 60 and older, or caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, of any age. Registration is required if attending one of the groups for the first time. For details, call the PCOA Support Group Program at (520) 609-1271.
Lifelong learning and social contacts go hand-in-hand for improved health and well-being.
People wanting to learn more can resolve to attend the Aging Mastery Program, a 10-week series that starts in February and costs $99. Local experts will address a series of topics. Learn more at www.pcoa.org or call the PCOA Aging Mastery Program at (520) 305-3409.