A challenge facing us all right now as we live through the current pandemic is a sense of disconnect and a lack of communal socialization.
Dining, shopping, sporting events and community celebrations have all been canceled or reformatted for the safety and well-being of every citizen. For our older neighbors in this community, senior isolation is a very real part of their lives, and it has also been compounded by the pandemic.
Social isolation doesn’t mean your neighbor or loved one is just “lonely” and needs a visit. It is serious and has far-reaching consequences on the health and well-being of an individual.
Countless studies from an assortment of scholarly sources will tell you senior social isolation leads to health complications. It’s just as serious as smoking and can cause a significant increase in blood pressure and stress levels.
A person living in isolation tends to develop bad health habits. An increase in smoking, alcohol consumption and unhealthy eating combined with a lack of physical activity effects a person’s health tremendously.
Extreme loneliness will lead to cognitive decline, which contributes in many ways
to the development of Alzheimer’s, according to studies.
An unfortunate reality we all have heard anecdotally or have seen firsthand is older adults falling victim to elder abuse and exploitation. Isolated older adults are at high risk to be taken advantage of by scammers.
With all of the consequences above, it should come as no shock to us all that a person in isolation has a sense of hopelessness and experiences bouts of depression and other mental health diagnosis.
Determining who is isolated is not as easy as one may think. Couples, caregivers and people we interact with every day could be living in isolation. As a community, we can be grateful to LaTida Smith and her team from the Moses Taylor Foundation for identifying senior isolation as one of their strategic initiatives.
Through their foundation, the United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties has already begun the work of combating senior isolation. Through continuous partnership with the Area Agency on Aging, the United Way gathered key stakeholders from organizations in community-based services, health and academia to coordinate our efforts. As we move forward, we will need community-minded individuals to come forward and help reestablish lost connections and bring ideas to the table on how we can reach those living among us.
Future planning is important but for those looking right now, we are offering virtual programming in collaboration with the Green House Project. NeighborWorks is making connections through their Neighborhood outreach services. Senior centers have often been directly associated with combating isolation.
This September, Lackawanna County and United Neighborhood Centers will resume activities and continue meal distribution at our four Healthy Aging Campuses. Campuses will be offering new health centered opportunities, activities and information sessions. With the support of Lackawanna College, we will be offering technology instruction geared for those over 60 this fall. Please watch the Lackawanna County and Area Agency on Aging websites and Facebook pages for connections to programing. If you aren’t connected online, please watch for announcements in our local paper.
This past Thanksgiving was a real time demonstration of the character our community. One isolated man asked to not spend a holiday alone. The community response was overwhelming and it will be again for every person we identify.
My grandparents taught me at a young age to say “hi” to everyone because it might the only “hello” that person hears all day. This little lesson sticks with me to this day. Overwhelmingly, I get a smile or even strike up a conversation with new acquaintances. Often it is the little things that add up and make the biggest difference.
Jason Kavulich is the director of Lackawanna County’s Area Agency on Aging. For more information on services available call 570-963-6740.