It’s an exciting time to be aging! So many new technologies and services are emerging: from robots that help seniors communicate with family members who live across the country, to wearable devices that monitor health conditions. There have been great strides in improving the quality of life as we get older. But sadly, in the middle of all these innovative designs, isolation is one of the biggest threats to the health of America’s seniors. And, although this health risk is not often discussed, at least 25% of seniors over 65 are impacted. The devastating effects can be felt physically, mentally and emotionally. A study done by AARP revealed that social isolation is as detrimental to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Being isolated means you may be cut off from certain benefits and resources that you are eligible for, and that would greatly benefit you. If you can’t drive, you can’t get to the organizations that can help. Isolated seniors may not visit their doctor regularly or get to the grocery store as often as they’d like due to lack of transportation. Recent Medicare studies show that isolated seniors have an increased risk of high blood pressure, depression, dementia, malnutrition and other harmful health issues. Loneliness carries a higher overall risk of mortality for both men and women in their older years.
How can you help combat isolation? Reach out and ask — there are many wonderful organizations right here in Douglas County that serve the older community. Connect with your local senior center — there is one in Castle Rock and another in Parker that host a wide range of activities. If you need additional services or don’t know who can help with a specific issue, Aging Resources of Douglas County (ARDC) is a resource center that provides not only programs and services for seniors but also offers information on aging issues and referrals to other professional agencies. The mission of this nonprofit is to help seniors stay independent, in their homes, and engaged in living. Recently ARDC has partnered up with the nonprofit, SECOR Cares, to bring a mobile food market to the rural parts of the county. Rural outreach efforts also include providing education and information on aging issues, while meeting seniors where they are. Not everyone has access to get into the urban centers where most services are located. And with 82% of Douglas County being rural, this outreach has been very well received.
One of Aging Resources’ newest projects surrounding senior isolation has been to develop an inter-generational program that connects home bound seniors with elementary school classrooms. Teachers sign up to have their students receive a presentation on what it means to get older, and afterward, the children write letters and cards and send artwork to seniors throughout the school year. And the seniors are writing back and forming pen-pal bonds! Kelsey Thiessen, ARDC’s program manager, states, “Human connection is one of the most important services we provide. Having a friendly voice on the phone when you call our office for assistance and having the opportunity to form new friendships goes a long way to battling senior isolation.”