Social isolation

Somehow I have become one of the Nevada volunteers for AARP’s Livable Communities. This responsibility is pretty mild, primarily dialing in to a monthly phone call, and fortunately, these 1-hour calls are organized with tremendous guest speakers, usually those working directly with Congress in Washington, DC. Topics vary, but they are always focused on key developments and concerns for seniors.

May’s presenter, E. A. Casey, shared insight on social isolation, a key trait of loneliness and being alone. Loneliness, she pointed out, is how one perceives it, as some people really like quiet and solitude while others enjoy lots of interaction. Too much isolation, however, may lead to chronic health problems, hearing and vision loss, and memory decline. Health issues may be neglected because no one else knows; hearing and vision difficulties may increase because initial indicators are ignored; memory may lapse due to a lack to stimulus and brain activation and engagement.

Some individuals are isolated because of prior life events – problems created with family members and friends. It is hard to forgive and forget injustices, but as an individual reaches the end of life it is important to remember each one is human and deserves acts of kindness and caring. Even a small dose of friendship can empower both the recipient and the provider. Others are isolated due to a lack of transportation or limited mobility. Good neighbors can be called on only so many times for trips to the doctor or to the store; public places without easy access can limit out-of-home ventures. Physical impairments, both in the person or in the structure, present ominous restrictions. It is often embarrassing to not be able to do what a person used to be able to do with ease: walking up and down stairs, turning recalcitrant doorknobs, venturing into a bathroom or changing room with cane, walker, or wheelchair. It becomes easier to just avoid the possibilities and stay at home alone.

Connect2Affect, an AARP initiative, has many suggestions to help you help others as they learn to help themselves. First, nurture existing relationships. We all have friends with whom we talk about lunch out or taking a walk in Water Canyon, but then the days and weeks flee and the promised activity rests dormant. Set that appointment now. This requires scheduling time and perhaps rearranging other commitments so write it on your calendar or in your planner in permanent ink – it is a must-do. I also recommend getting involved and while you are at it, convince a family member or friend to join you. Volunteers are always needed in just about every group or organization. Be wise with your offer of time and energy as you do not want to become overwhelmed with dissatisfying obligations. “Yes. I can donate 3 hours every 3rd Thursday. Does that work for you?” (I reiterate this sentence to help me practice it!).

Join a club with similar endeavors that you enjoy pursuing; take a class. I believe a live one is better as there is more opportunity for interaction, but online courses work, too. And the type of class makes a difference. If I wish to learn Italian, for example, I would like the solitude of my home for study, but I know that to learn to speak I must practice so I must seek out a friend with a like goal so we can jabber together. Yoga I can perform with a DVD, however, a live class offers me more stimulation – of body and of brain. Getting out also forces me away from my shy comfort zone as I chat and visit with others.

People will tell me, “I don’t know what to say to my friend with dementia. She doesn’t respond correctly or seem to understand.” Tenderness transcends all words; gentle touching and soothing words exceed a tenuous conversation. You can do it – you can make a difference!

Please fit any or all of these 3 Tuesday, June 4th,beneficial information meetings into your packed schedule: Age- and Dementia-Friendly Winnemucca 8am HGH; Let’s Talk About Dementia (I adjusted the name) 10:30 HGH; Alzheimer’s Support Group noon (HGH). Guest speakers include representatives from Guiding Light Hospice, Jessica Anderson from Humboldt County library with ideas to promote senior engagement, Pam Coats of Winnemucca PD on assisting those who self neglect, and updates on the Sprint Triathlon, respite in Winnemucca, and more. All meetings are casual with time for questions and discussion. Please mark your calendar.