Social isolation is a growing concern for humans of all ages.
The Importance of Community for Aging Adults cannot be underestimated.
What the Research Says
In young adults, studies show that those who use social media to replace in-person interactions with friends and family suffer negative side effects such as isolation and depression. And among older adults, a new study found that a lack of social contacts is associated with an estimated $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending annually.
Global factors contributing to social isolation among older adults are historically consistent… urbanization, the breakdown of multi-generational households and the distance families live from each other as a result of jobs that require relocation.
Other factors are less transparent such as cities that aren’t built with aging adults in mind, our personal stigmas regarding age, or even the massive impact of widespread technology adoption on our perceptions of older adults.
When you consider the impact of losing our closest friends, our spouse or other contemporaries as we age, it’s even more critical to create a plan of engagement that will help us remain connected to our individual sense of community and not underestimate the importance of Community for Aging Adults
How Do You Define Community?
Think about ‘community’ as a collection of social interactions with friends, new acquaintances or organizations that create a general sense of well-being. The idea behind growing and maintaining a sense of community is to nurture what makes you human: our universal desire for connection. This looks different for every individual.
Many people describe interactions with their pets as fostering a sense of community; others are actively involved with their church; join a book club; connect online with family or work part-time with charitable organizations. What you do is less important than who you do it with and ultimately, what benefit you receive (and give!) during the interaction.
A Good Place to Start
There are many articles written with tips on remaining active and connected to your community as you age. For your sake, we won’t take the time to regurgitate a lot of their tips. After all, many of the good habits recommended by experts are good for all adults, not just aging ones.
Staying active, eating as healthy as possible, connecting with your family, finding a job or volunteer opportunity that gives you a sense of purpose… all are great steps to take. But you likely know all that.
Instead, we thought it may be valuable to recommend a good place to start and to encourage you to overcome the obstacles you may encounter along the way.
We believe that building community is no more or no less than making meaningful relationships a priority above all else. Could there be a better or more important place to start? Again, it’s not about where or how, it’s about who.
Be forewarned, this is not an easy task. In our society, everyone is overbooked and overwhelmed. And the older we look physically, the less ‘society’ values us as individuals. In a world that prioritizes ‘likes’ above personal connection, you have to be determined and persistent in your desire to live in relationship with other people.
You may even face obstacles as you attempt to engage and connect with your children. This is particularly true if they’re acting as informal caregivers for you in some capacity. Setting boundaries where you can be the parent and they can be the child is critical to maintaining a powerful and meaningful relationship with your loved one.
Perhaps consider our view that ‘aging is an achievement.’ It is a goal; something to be desired and celebrated and respected. No one knows or can appreciate the lessons that time imparts better than you.
And finally, remember that in the pursuit of building your own sense of community, you may find that the greatest benefit you receive is the contribution you make to the lives of others along the way.