The negative effect of isolation is something the vast majority of the world can now relate to. The COVID-19 pandemic forced people from all walks of life and from every corner of the globe to spend less time with friends, family members, neighbors, and other acquaintances. As the world cut back on in-person interactions to curb the spread of the virus, billions of people recognized just how difficult feelings of isolation can be.
Feelings of isolation are a problem many seniors know all too well. A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine indicates that roughly 25 percent of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. That’s both sad and unhealthy, as the National Institute on Aging notes that research has linked social isolation and loneliness to problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Seniors are invaluable resources in their communities. Community leaders and local residents can make a concerted effort to involve seniors in local events. Such efforts strengthen communities and help seniors remain active participants in their towns and cities.
- Promote senior-friendly volunteering opportunities. The importance of volunteers was never more apparent than during the pandemic, when many nonprofits and other organizations were forced to meet their missions without the assistance of volunteers who had been urged to stay home. Seniors were among the first people eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and receive boosters, and many have been anxious to get back to pitching in. Communities can facilitate those efforts by developing and highlighting senior-friendly volunteering opportunities. For example, libraries can start a program where seniors read to children in person or via Zoom.
- Give seniors a chance to teach. Communities have rich histories that younger residents, including middle-aged adults, may be unaware of. One great way to shed light on local history is to invite local seniors to speak about how life in their communities has changed and how it’s stayed the same. Themed speaking series can attract locals with specific interests. For example, local veterans can be asked to share stories of their time in the service, while retired business owners can offer insight and advice on running successful local businesses.
- Develop nature-based programs. A 2019 study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that spending just 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with better overall health and improved well-being. Nature-based community programs, such as planting days at local parks, hiking clubs or even beach or lakeside cleanups, is a great way for community residents, including seniors, to get their weekly dose of nature and spend more time with their neighbors. Many seniors routinely confront feelings of isolation. Community leaders can take steps to help aging residents by developing and promoting programs that are inclusive and senior-friendly.