gmhTODAY 25 gmhTODAY April May 2019 - Page 62

{ } Loneliness… AGING with an Attitude I n a recent Wall Street Journal article, authors Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg note that baby boomers are aging alone more than any generation in U.S. history. Based on census fi gures and other research, they note that one in eleven Americans, aged 50 and older, lacks a spouse, partner or living child. According to a lone- liness survey conducted by AARP in 2010, one in three people claim to be lonely. In a 2018 study conducted by Stanford, Harvard and AARP, a reported 8 million Americans do not have any close relatives—the main source of companionship in old age. in self-loathing. Lonely people are also more likely to engage in self-destructive behavior (e.g. smoking, use of drugs, even promiscuity). Remember that saying, “it takes a village.” A collaborative effort could help those who are affected with lone- liness. Imagine the impact we could make if all of us made a commitment to help. The only cost would be that of time! In her 2016 blog posting featured on the A Place for Mom website, Dana Larsen notes things you can do today to combat senior isolation. Here are of few of the items she noted: Loneliness is often downplayed: “Oh, Mom is okay, she is just lonely.” For the most part, our society just does not get how loneliness can affect one’s health and can even be linked to early death. It can actually be as lethal as drinking six alcoholic beverages a day or smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Meyer, 2018). It has been linked to clinical depression, high blood pressure, and several chronic illnesses. As a matter of fact, Medicare spends nearly 7 billion dollars a year on hospitalization and nursing facilities for older adults who do not have a close friend or relative to turn to (Harvard University, Stanford University and AARP, 2018). One of the things indicative of lone- liness is a loss of appetite—choosing to survive by eating junk food or worse, not eating at all—opening up the possibility for lethargy, cognitive decline and/or malnutrition. And, at the height of loneliness, becoming sedentary; losing the motivation to do anything. A lonely person may easily become “glued to the couch,” suffering from sleep disturbances or engaging Promote a Sense of Purpose Encourage your loved ones to pur- sue an interest. A good way for them to dip their toes in the social waters is to take a class in an area they are interested in, or participate in a group outing. Provide them opportunities to volunteer. Even if they do not want to volunteer, having them attend events at the local senior center or enrolling them in a class they might enjoy is an excellent way for them to get involved. 62 will get their blood moving in addition to increasing their fl exibility and strength — and also helps give them a positive body image to want to interact with others and be social. Keep Up Doctor Visits Preventive health is essential for seniors. Addressing health issues like hearing and vision loss can make the difference between a senior being aware of their environment and being able to interact as they normally would. Here are a few I would add: • If you moved your parent to be near you, be patient. They are no longer as resilient as you are. Moving from an environment where you spent most of your adult life is no less traumatic than an oak tree being uprooted after 50 years! • Be kind – smile at people, say a kind word. “See” people, acknowledge them – this can do wonders for a socially isolated individual. • Introduce them to a neighbor they may like. Some families start with a “safe alternative” by hiring a caregiver who can provide companionship, engagement. (A trusted caregiver who has your parent’s trust can open the door to socialization). Make Transportation Available Anything that helps seniors get around and make independent choices about travel promotes social health. This is key their feelings of connectedness and independence. Get Them a Pet Pet therapy is medicinal: it can actually lower anxiety and blood pressure, boost memory and contribute to mood and a sense of wellbeing. So, visit your local shelter to walk an equally lonely dog— just visit, or bring home a precious pet. • If you have a child who participates in school events, there are tasks an older adult can help with that provide people interface (selling tickets at the Encourage Exercise — Especially benefi cial to seniors, exercise GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN april/may 2019 gmhtoday.com Written by Dorie Sugay, the Executive Director of Visiting Angels.