Much of the time we think in terms of medicine, therapy, surgery, treatment, and so forth whenever we consider health and well being. And those are important components. But one thing that is often neglected, yet is vital to our health, is personal connection with others.
It is not only mental and emotional health, but also physical health. More than one study has shown there is a direct relationship between a lack of strong, healthy personal connections and increased risk of death. This is true for everyone, but it is especially true for seniors and the elderly in America.
On the opposite side of the coin, a person with multiple strong, healthy personal connections has nearly a 50% better chance of living a long, fruitful life, has a stronger immune system, and recovers from disease more quickly! More than one study supports these claims.
Lifestyles in America have changed in the last 100 years though, and it is seldom that seniors live with, or even very near, their extended families. Modern Americans often move away from home to find work or to accept a new position. I specify Americans because we tend to move much more often (on the average) than our European counterparts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American moves 11 times in his or her lifetime, while in Europe the average number of moves is about four.
Because of this, adult children often reside far away from parents or grandparents. Families are getting smaller, too, and this means there are fewer relatives to make friendly calls or visits. As the population ages, those families with seven or eight brothers and sisters dwindle, so the average family gathering is much smaller than it was 50 or even 25 years ago.
Add to that the increasing tendency to isolate from others, even before the pandemic started. I know many who have shunned casual visits by family or friends for a long time. And some go so far as to use social networks and texting to the exclusion of even a simple phone call ... perhaps forgetting that many seniors and elderly do not have the technical wherewithal or even good enough vision for texting or Facebook.
I will step out on a limb right now and give a personal example. It’s a risk on my part, but I believe it is worth it if I can help someone else.
My father is 84, going on 85, and is legally blind. He can see well enough to watch television, but he cannot really read. He had to give up driving a while back. It simply wasn’t safe. He recently moved into a small ADU beside us, because he wanted some independence but realized that he could not continue to care for a big country house with multiple acres of property.
Most of his brothers and sisters have passed away. My mother died in 2013, so he has lived alone since then. Members of the churches he attended and was active in for years stopped visiting long ago. He is unable to attend most churches he attended before because his nerves will not handle the loud music. Most of his friends and more distant relatives are either passed away or are unable to visit or call because of illness or disability.
We involve Dad in our lives as much as we can. We have him over for meals, visit and talk with him, and I drive him to his medical appointments and other places. But I know he misses others who used to visit with him or call him.
Yes, I know we are in a pandemic. But the phone still works. The postal mail still carries cards and letters.
I see how this impacts him, emotionally, mentally, and physically, and it saddens me. I KNOW that he cannot be the only person in Calhoun, in Gordon County, or in the United States, who suffers from a lack of connection and socialization.
Here is my question: Is there someone you care about who lacks active connections with others? Is this an older person who doesn’t have the freedom to visit others, especially in the present pandemic situation? Nursing homes have restricted visitation, and the local senior center is closed until further notice.
How can you make a difference? Here are some things YOU can do to help:
♦ Make a point of calling them once a week or so and spend a few minutes just chatting.
♦ Send them a card or note with some encouraging words once in a while.
♦ If you can do so while observing pandemic precautions, drop by and see them once in a while.
♦ Don’t abandon them simply because they are old.
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