Local connections, community outings combat golden-ager loneliness

by Laura Bednar

In 2023, one in three adults age 50-80 reported feeling isolated from others, according to healthyagingpoll.org. Though this is a decline from 2020, loneliness among seniors can still lead to negative mental and physical health.

“Seniors need to plan to be healthy as long as possible,” said Melysa Foster, director of marketing and community relations at Regina Health Center in Richfield.

Her outreach includes aging adults who choose to stay in their homes. She said this is encouraged if they can do so safely and without disconnecting from people and places outside the home.

Isolation, she explained, can lead to not eating right, lack of motivation and depression. The World Health Organization estimates that loneliness and social isolation in older adults increases the risk of dementia by 50%, the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease by 30%, and the risk of early death by 25%.

That’s why Foster said it’s vital for aging adults not only to have regular doctor, but also to stay active as a way to avoid those negative effects.

Combating loneliness

The first recommendation is to visit a community’s senior center.

“There is a stigma about going to the senior center when you retire,” said Foster. However, she said just moving to leave the house can keep the body flexible and connecting with others at senior centers can turn into positive friendships.

Foster mentioned that the Richfield Senior Center offers live music, Independence hosts regular senior lunches at its Civic Center and Broadview Heights has activity rooms for Bingo, playing cards or other games.

Some city recreation centers have a Silver Sneakers program, in which a person may qualify for free or reduced cost programs if they register for Silver Sneakers through their health insurance. Foster said riding bikes, using exercise equipment or even just walking also can stave off feelings of anxiety or depression.

Older adults without transportation to and from centers or events are encouraged to call their local human services center for transportation or to get a recommendation for another resource.

For those who may be more homebound, Foster suggested connecting to the World Wide Web to watch YouTube videos on exercise or tune in to a livestream of a chosen worship service.

“Most seniors have a mobile phone or computer and libraries and senior centers offer lessons on how to use them,” said Foster.

In some instances, seniors may be resistant to change, especially after situations like losing a long-time spouse. In those cases, reaching out to a late spouse’s friends can help foster new connections. Contacting local churches is also an option to learn about scheduled outings for older adults or other ways to get out of the home.

Getting out of the house just to experience the seasons can change the cognitive mindset and uplift a person, according to Foster, even if it’s just sitting in the driveway.

The quiet that comes with being home alone can fuel feelings of loneliness. Foster suggested making calls to family or friends, or renting audio books and movies from the library. Senior care services such as Rent-a-Daughter helps those still at home with housekeeping, Alzheimer’s and dementia care and general companionship, among other services. Though, Foster said, these types of services are more costly.

Regardless of method, social connection is vital.

“Some psychiatrists even compare social connection to vitamins in that we need a dose of positive contact with people each day,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How to help

People can engage older adults in the community just by being neighborly.

“If you know a senior in the neighborhood, introduce yourself,” said Foster. “Even if they are not overly friendly, you never realize what someone may have been through.”

The neighborly feeling goes both ways, as seniors can make contact with neighbors to make sure someone is around to check in on them. Foster reminds both seniors and other community members to remain positive in how they talk to other people.

“When reaching out, be jovial in how you interact,” she said. “It’s important to care about yourself and the mindset you wake up with and the mindset you share with other people.”

Individuals can contact human services departments, churches and health centers to learn about senior volunteer opportunities. ∞