Staying Active and Social as You Age
We often take for granted the many opportunities over the years to be social. All of our school years provided a variety of chances to make friends. Most of our young lives we make friends through our community as well as shared interests to forced interaction. You had to deal with others and communicate, whether you wanted to or not. Careers offer social outlets for the same reason, you see the same faces, you have a common interest (work) and there is the potential to turn a co-worker into a friend or partner. Having children also opens the door to making friends with other parents.
Seniors Can Become Isolated
As we get older though, the pool of available people and opportunities to have conversations or make friends shrinks. Studies show up to 43% of adults over 65 report feelings of loneliness. What makes that all the worse is that loneliness and isolation are bad for you. In fact, loneliness has been shown to be worse than smoking or obesity for overall health. We are in an epidemic currently of socially isolated seniors. People live longer than they have in the past and adult children are more likely to live further away. Aging at home can provide security and regularity, but it also can isolate an older person who isn’t able to come and go as they once could. Becoming isolated often happens over time, perhaps the death of a spouse, the inability to drive, or failing health can all contribute to the issue. In this article, we will discuss some simple ways to stay active and engaged well into old age.
One of the best ways to stave off loneliness and isolation into old age is to start thinking about how to prevent it long before. Having retirement plans, past how you will pay for retirement, will help keep you motivated and engaged. Too often, retirees spend the bulk of their time home in front of a television. The inactivity is bad for the body and the mind. So, when thinking about your retirement, make sure to plan for activities that you are passionate about and provide the opportunity to meet people and stay connected. Volunteering is a wonderful way to be part of something and give back to your community. No matter your passion, there is surely an organization that can use you and your enthusiasm or expertise! Working a part-time job or taking classes on something you’ve always been interested in is also a great way to stay active. The brain is a muscle and benefits from new ways to learn and connect. Cooking classes, learning a new language, birding, hiking, swimming - the skies the limit. The more you think about how you want to spend your days, the better prepared for your retirement.
The majority of Americans want to age in place in their home, but the hard truth is that 70% of those end up in some form of assisted living or long term care facility. Looking at your home environment and being realistic about your quality of life long before there are any issues, can save a lot of heartache long term. If you live in a remote or rural area, how will you get to appointments and run errands if you were unable to drive? If your home is on multiple floors, how will you manage? The more you can do to make your later years easier and more comfortable, the better. There are many senior centers, church groups, and social networks available. There are even phone services available for those that may be homebound. The internet is a wonderful invention for seniors at home, as groceries and medicine can be delivered. Rideshare can pick up and drop off to avoid driving. There are also online social groups like Virtual Senior Centers (VSC). Seniors who’ve participated in Virtual Senior Centers reported a whopping 85% decrease in feelings of isolation! So, there are opportunities for even the most immobile seniors with a little bit of detective work to find the right fit.
Touring assisted living and long-term care facilities well in advance may give you more control of where in the event you could not stay home, you’d like to go. Downsizing to save money and be safer may allow you to stay home much longer. Moving into a 55 plus housing development or condo may allow you more opportunities to meet like-minded people.
Loneliness is Bad For Your Health
Humans are pack animals. We not only need friendship, but it is also good for us and helps with our overall cognitive and physical health. Getting older is inevitable and there are some aspects we can’t do much about. That being said, there are a lot of things we can do to improve the quality of life. Staying active and eating well is vitally important. The old adage: Use it or Lose it holds true. Physical and mental health go hand in hand, and inactivity and depression do as well. Lonely people die prematurely, in part because the isolation compromises their immune system. Inactivity increases inflammation and decreases circulation. The added stresses of poor health or financial strain combined with loneliness can be quite toxic.
If you have an elderly parent(s), make it a point to check in on them and keep them active. An easy task like teaching them how to send and receive text messages can allow you to communicate easier with messages and photos, which receiving can make their day! Seeking out opportunities for friendships and human contact are so vitally important. And remember, we host events all year long at Doble LeBranti for opportunities to get involved in the community and have some fun, so try and join us. Feeling part of something, a member of a pack, can be life-changing. So, get out there, get active, and get involved.
About the Author
I am a life-long MA native and live in Andover with my wife Nadine and our two daughters. When I am not in the office, I keep busy taking the girls to dance class and going on family bike rides. Nadine and I enjoy a night out on the town following our favorite DJs and bands, cutting a rug to the soul, disco, and R&B that we love.