The COVID pandemic has greatly impacted older Coloradans on many levels, and one area that has been greatly exposed is the social isolation of older adults in communities across Colorado.
Many older adults, prior to the pandemic, suffered from social isolation. However, government recommendations to isolate as the pandemic was ramping up compounded the fear of leaving home, and increased the effects of isolation on so many people.
Isolation makes us sick! Research has proven that prolonged periods of social isolation contribute to the risk in stroke and heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, poor sleep quality and common colds, plus so much more. Isolation also impacts our thinking, function and mood.
This can result in impaired cognitive function, decline in motor function and gait speed, increased depression and increased risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide.
Isolation also increases the risk for early death by nearly 30% and prolonged isolation has been associated with the health risks equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Why are older adults at higher risk for social isolation? Some risk factors older adults are more likely to face include living alone, retirement, loss of family/friends, age-related health problems, mobility and/or hearing impairment or lack of transportation.
How can social isolation be reduced? There are several options that can help address social isolation in older adults.
Many programs are available through universities, high schools and nonprofit organizations that pair older adults, volunteers or students to become phone partners and regularly schedule social conversations to help make new friends and create connections outside of one’s normal network. Colorado is very fortunate to have many of these types of programs available.
Other options to help combat social isolation include working to change mindset and thinking more positively about isolation. Engaging in lifelong learning opportunities, participating in exercise classes and possibly learning more about the use of mindfulness to help with relaxation techniques are just a few strategies to consider.
Older adults will need to determine which of these suggestions is the best fit and provide the most joy in their daily lives.
With the new delta variant and uncertainty of the direction the pandemic will take, it is important to take care of one’s physical health to help positively impact emotional and mental health during these uncertain times.
Humans thrive when socially connected, and an understanding of how to take care of your physical and mental well-being by becoming connected with new friends, resources, services and learning opportunities will help ensure that aging well will take place in our communities across Colorado.
Jodi Waterhouse is the director of outreach programs at CU Anschutz Multidisciplinary Center on Aging (MCoA). This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County.
Please join us for our next virtual online presentation from 10-11 a.m. on Nov. 4, when Waterhouse will present about the variety of programs and updates available to Coloradans through the MCoA, to include older adults and students teaming up to reduce social isolation through the COAST-IT program and a glimpse of campus activity directed toward ensuring that older Coloradans age well. For additional information about the CU Anschutz Multidisciplinary Center on Aging please visit: medschool.cuanschutz.edu/center-on-aging.
For more information, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.
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