By Sherry Saturno, LCSW, DCSW, LNHA
As we approach Valentine’s Day, we are flooded with reminders about expressing the importance of loved ones in our lives, about making connection, and sharing emotion. As Executive Director of Gramatan Village, an aging-in-place community, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with vibrant and active older adults. I’ve witnessed countless times how critical the importance of human relationships and connection is for elders.
There is a strong correlation between human connection and engagement and the overall impact on an elder’s physical and mental health. Seniors who are imbued with a sense of purpose are less likely to succumb to the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness. Isolation can increase the risk of mortality, falls, and re-hospitalization among older adults. Feelings of loneliness have a negative impact upon an individual’s physical and mental health, and perceived aloneness may contribute to cognitive decline. Social isolation makes seniors more vulnerable to elder abuse, and can instill a sense of pessimism about the future. Physical and geographic location often lead to seclusion, and in the case of seniors who cannot drive, transportation challenges remain a significant barrier to living a full life.
For “Solo Agers”, elders living without the support of a partner or family nearby, the negative effects of solitude pose an even greater risk. How can we combat this withdrawal and promote a greater sense of purpose among seniors? We can accomplish this by recognizing and valuing the bonds of relationships and social support systems.
Additionally, volunteerism can decrease social isolation and feelings of solitariness among seniors. When you help others, you will find something greater than yourself. This experience is an opportunity to channel energy, and for some elders, their grief and challenges into something constructive and meaningful. For example, RSVP of Westchester specializes in placing adults ages 55 and over in volunteer placements where their wisdom, talent, and skills may be best utilized.
Embracing learning can also help promote overall well-being and create opportunities for socialization through classes and discussion. DOROT offers the University Without Walls, for seniors who would like to learn more about history, art, and culture via instructional classes over the phone. Encouraging hobbies and activities is crucial to remaining engaged in the everyday, and intergenerational mentoring is mutually beneficial for both the older adults who serve as mentors and the young mentees. Technology assistance can help seniors feel more connected and comfortable in navigating social media.
David Bowie once said, “Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.” That perspective is exciting and resonates with promise. As we age, we may inevitably need more support. However, we understand that growing older does not mean you stop growing as a person. We continue to evolve and learn throughout our lives, challenge ourselves and pursue interests. By embracing opportunities for connection, we empower ourselves to own our age and lead our best possible lives.
About Gramatan Village: Vibrant Aging. At Home. Your Own Way. Gramatan Village is a non-profit organization that supports adults ages 55 and up who want to age in the home and neighborhood that they love. We support empowered aging-in-community with a network of volunteers, experts, professional referrals, and peer connections that enable members to stay independent, vital, and engaged as they grow older. At Gramatan Village, members receive services such as transportation to local appointments, referrals to vetted community partners, technology support, local merchant discounts, home maintenance support, home safety checks, assistance in financial planning and in navigating Medicare/Medicaid, advocacy, workshop and seminar offerings, priority consideration for skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, support groups, counseling, volunteer opportunities, as well as social and cultural outings.
Visit www.gramatanvillage.org. Gramatan Village, 85 Pondfield Road, Bronxville, NY 10708. Phone (914) 337-1338.