An article in today’s Los Angeles Times, Social isolation increases risk of early death, reported that seniors who are socially isolated are more likely to die prematurely. The article was based on a newly published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
I’ve written before on loneliness in seniors and how that contributes to poor health but this new study got me thinking and I began some research on what might help seniors combat isolation.
According to an AARP Foundation survey , seniors are having trouble staying connected with family, friends and neighbors. The reasons aren’t necessarily what you might think. The fact that families are now spread out all over the country might be anyone’s first guess, but there’s more to it.
Seniors might be coping with their own illnesses/medical conditions or those of a spouse or partner. They might be struggling with lack of mobility or may have lost their job. Maybe they live alone, have fewer friends than they used to, or are caregiving for a loved one, and more. It’s easy to see how a senior might become disconnected, overwhelmed or stranded—any of these can contribute to isolation.
I’ve witnessed this first-hand with a close relative who is retired and now copes with chronic medical conditions that contribute to him being fairly homebound unless friends and caregivers take him out. Just the other day in a phone call he said, “Retirement is awful. If I hadn’t had to retire because of my physical problems I never would have.” It didn’t take much prompting for him to continue. “Martine,” he said, “getting old is not easy.”
I feel for him, especially because he lives across the country and my regular phone calls, books and treats that I send him don’t make up for not flying there often enough. Besides, he has few family members and friends now that he’s retired and 81 years old.
I also know other seniors who are retired and who long for a sense of connectedness to a group of people, something they once had with their jobs. They don’t necessarily miss the jobs they retired from but sorely miss the connections they once had, and in particular the sense of self-efficacy they felt in the world.
Recently, I talked with a few friends who are worried about their retired parents who have become isolated and have developed a sort of inertia when it comes to connecting with the community. They shared that their parents don’t know where to go to make the first step or simply lack the motivation. So, I decided to do some research to see what I might come up with in terms of resources for seniors that might serve as a lift back into the community.
Much to my delight, I came across MyMentorAdvisor As I read about this organization, I grew excited for the seniors I care about and the possibilities that could come from connecting to this organization. MyMentorAdvisor is “a website developed to match people that may be retired…who have a specific talent or skill and want to share their knowledge with others who have a need or interest. It’s about people helping people.” I contacted the founder, John Young, to find out a little more. He established phase 1 of the website five months ago and is in the process of establishing an initial network of mentors. I passed this information on to a retired CEO friend of mine and he said, “I’m fascinated. I’ll let you know of my progress.”
I was also delighted to uncover a number of organizations that also focus on connecting seniors with professional experience to businesses and individuals as a way of sharing a wealth of knowledge with those who need it. SCORE.org offers mentors to businesses of all types. Their website states that “Volunteering at SCORE is a way for you to give back to your community, connect with fellow business owners and pass on your knowledge and expertise to the next generation of entrepreneurs in your community.”
Equally as exciting is ExecuBrainTrust which “places highly experienced retired executives for corporate consulting engagements and temporary executive assignments.”
Who knew these organizations existed?
Another organization, WISE & Healthy Aging (Santa Monica, CA), is simply one of the most wonderful organizations for seniors which “enhances the independence, dignity and quality of life of older adults through leadership, advocacy, and innovative services.” I was a moderator for a WISE & Healthy Aging event at RAND Corporation a few weeks ago. I didn’t realize until now that not only do they provide a comprehensive resource center for the over 50 set, but they also offer Peer Counseling, a program within WISE that trains older adults to counsel their peers. They’ve been featured on the TV shows “20/20,” 60 Minutes and others.
Perhaps we’re all familiar with senior centers and religious institutions that provide opportunities for seniors to get involved, connect to others and volunteer. My own godmother, Martha, was very involved in her local senior center and it kept her involved, active and stimulated. But senior centers and churches might not be for everyone. Check out AARP and the above links and see if they are a fit. If not, Google “senior resources, combat isolation” and you’ll come up with a number of articles which list resources and links to organizations.
The key to combating isolation in seniors, according to AARP, and Richard J. Leider, author of The Power of Purpose, is to find a new purpose or reinvent your purpose in life. It’s about “what gets you up in the morning and what energizes you and brings passion to your life.” Leider is also the founder and chairman of The Inventure Group a coaching and consulting firm in Minneapolis.
Connecting to purpose is important for all of us. Purpose drives us into the community to make new friends and business connections, to give back, and increases a sense of fulfillment. Maybe for some it’s recreating purpose and for others it might be tending to grandchildren, volunteering in the community or creating a book group. Whatever it is, I hope the conversation continues about what we can do to assist our seniors.
I welcome your comments.
DISCLAIMER: I am not recommending any of the organizations listed. Please do your own research.