Strengthen Your Social Wellness to Combat Loneliness and Isolation
Loneliness can cause premature death. So can social isolation and living alone. These are the findings of a study published early this year by a group of psychologists at Brigham Young University. The study, which evaluated prior studies of more than three million individuals, concludes that people who feel lonely, or are socially isolated or live alone have a higher probability of premature mortality. The increased likelihood of death was 26% for reported loneliness, 29% for social isolation and 32% for living alone.
The study’s authors see a parallel between the increased risk of mortality from social isolation and the current obesity epidemic, which was predicted over 30 years ago by researchers. Another study, published in the United Kingdom in 2014, predicts that, unless action is taken, loneliness will be epidemic in 2030. Will loneliness become the next big public health issue?
How can this be dealt with in a culture in which the vast majority of older adults, including many who live alone, are choosing to remain in their homes for as long as possible? In past generations, the family caregiver was a large part of the solution. Now, because of distance (potential family caregivers who live too far away) or circumstance (single parent and two-income families), the idea of the family caregiver as the antidote to isolation and loneliness is increasingly less realistic.
We propose an approach that addresses this problem in terms of the whole-person wellness model. This model has six dimensions: physical, social, spiritual, emotional, occupational and intellectual. All six are important and contribute to an individual’s overall health and well-being. However, when loneliness and isolation are the problem, social wellness is the focus. Social wellness, as defined, fights loneliness and isolation. It encourages individuals to make choices to build personal relationships and friendships and to stay connected to their community.
Some questions to ask yourself to measure your own social wellness:
• Do I plan time to be with my family and friends?
• Do I enjoy the time I spend with others?
• Are my relationships with others positive and rewarding?
• Do I explore diversity by interacting with people of other cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs?
If your answer is “no” to any of these, you may have a social wellness issue. As always, the question, becomes, “Yes, but what can I do?”
If you are mobile and can get out and around in the community, some possibilities are:
o Nursing Homes: In Peoria County alone there are 22 nursing homes who would love to have volunteers read, play games, sing, play an instrument, share a hobby or craft with their residents. Call and ask for the Volunteer Coordinator or the Activities Department.
o Hospitals: Unity Point Methodist | Proctor Hospital and OSF St. Francis Medical Center are always looking for volunteer help. Websites for more information: www.unitypoint.org/peoria/ways-to-help and www.osfhealthcare.org/saint-francis/giving-volunteering/opportunities.
o VolunteerMatch.org (www.volunteermatch.org) is a bulletin board overflowing with volunteer opportunities in the Peoria area, from gardening to museum store operation to reception. Not-for-profits rely on volunteers for their survival and they are always needed.
• Park District activities: The Peoria Park District’s 50 Rock program offers seniors classes, entertainment and trips to near and distant destinations. (www.peoriaparks.org/playbook)
• Churches: Almost every church has a senior ministry. Some are social, others provide volunteer help to make the church run and some are both.
For the truly homebound individual, the choices may be more limited:
• If access to transportation is an issue, CountyLink (309-697-3305) provides door-to-door transportation in Peoria County Monday thru Friday for $6 one way and CityLift (309-999-3667) provides door-to-door transportation in the City of Peoria seven days a week for $2 one way. Twenty-four hour advance reservations are required. Similar services are available in surrounding counties; see www.tricountyrpc.org/human-service-transportation-plan for more information.
• Many home care companies provide a companionship service that offers a screened and matched caregiver for conversation, reading and companionship. Hours are typically flexible.
• The Center for Youth & Family Services offers a Friendly Visitor Program whose goal is to improve the quality of life for isolated seniors in the Peoria community. Telephone: (309) 323-6655. Website: cyfsolutions.org
• Staying connected: Facebook, FaceTime and Skype are great solutions for staying up-to-date with distant relatives and friends. For those who need it, Facebook, iPad and FaceTime training for seniors are available at Peoria Area SeniorNet. Phone: 1-800-872-4651, extension 1510. Website: www.peoriaareaseniornet.org
Social wellness is about getting and staying connected to those around us. Make today a good day to assess yours and that of the older adults in your life. You may extend a life.