By Ann F. Monroe
The late television and radio writer Andy Rooney once made this observation about the inevitability of growing older: “The idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”
Too often, aging is accompanied by increased isolation. Despite medical advances that may prolong life, the reality is that social isolation affects seniors “when decreasing economic resources, mobility impairment and the death of contemporaries conspire to limit social contacts,” noted researchers from University College London. People who are socially isolated face increased risk of cardiovascular disease, infectious illnesses, cognitive decline and death.
These conclusions come from a study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers found that isolated seniors were more likely to be older, unmarried, have limited education and be less wealthy. Further, social isolation was associated with health conditions such as chronic lung disease, arthritis, impaired mobility and depression.
Social contact, on the other hand, aids health management. People who live alone or lack social contacts may experience increased risk of death should health conditions worsen, since they lack a network to monitor their health and urge medical attention.
More people of all ages live alone these days and, therefore, risk social isolation. About 28 percent of all non-institutionalized adults 65 and older lived alone in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging.
The population of people 65 and over in Western New York is expected to increase 26 percent between 2000 and 2030.
Participating groups reported an increase in the number of volunteers assisting seniors; success in providing home modification products such as smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors; growing social contact through new neighborhood groups and events; informing more seniors about the activities and services available; and success in identifying and obtaining additional financial support to continue and expand their activities.
Ann F. Monroe is president of the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.