It's the topic of news and magazine articles, civic and church committees. It's a topic that is growing in concern as our population ages. What is it? It's loneliness and isolation among the older adults in our own communities. Even in our own families.
You can probably think of one or two people in your own circle who are suffering from it. A beloved great uncle who seems to have become more reclusive over the years. The lady next door who gets no visitors. The man at church whose wife passed away last year, and who rarely attends services any longer. The seniors who sit at the mall food court all morning, sipping coffee and watching passersby. Yes, even in a busy environment like a mall, it's possible to feel lonely.
Why? Because the opposite of loneliness is engagement: feeling connected emotionally, cognitively, and socially with others. Sadly, too many older adults today feel disengaged, and crave the kind of connections that will keep up their spirits--and their health.
When I started studying gerontology after a long career as an English instructor, one of the first things I learned was that new research suggests that chronic loneliness and isolation can lead to serious health issues in seniors. This includes cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, dementia and depression. Beyond the obvious emotional toll this takes on seniors, it also impacts their ability to flourish independently.
The second thing I learned was that researchers have identified a capacity in the brain called cognitive reserve, that when strengthened, can help people delay the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Cognitive reserve is the brain's ability to stay strong against damage done by brain disease and trauma. The studies suggest that learning new things, especially in combination with social engagement, has a powerful effect on cognitive function.
Brain games and puzzles alone are not enough--people need people! And that's where YOU come in.
The seniors in your circle need social interaction and learning to avoid loneliness, to feel engaged, and to strengthen cognitive function. And, because of the great feeling you get working with people in your family and community, you can train to become the exact person they need.