Social programs enhance physical health through emotional connection.
Could a conversation a day keep the doctor away? Experts say, yes. Recent research shows emotional isolation is a health hazard for older adults—simply feeling lonely ups the risk of memory loss, strokes and cardiovascular disease. More than 40 percent of people over 60 report feelings of isolation, usually as a result of mobility issues, hearing loss or major life changes. To combat the epidemic of loneliness, organizations are creating more opportunities to help isolated seniors build more social connections.
“We have many who start in our program because they need to do something that gets them out of the house,” says Linda Daniels, program assistant for Salt Lake County’s Foster Grandparent Program, which matches older adults with high-risk and special needs youth. “But once they start, they realize the children keep them young at heart. Over the years, we’ve had grandparents with health issues who feel that ‘getting back to their children’ has made the difference in how quickly they recover.”
Other statewide programs host events to facilitate human connection. The Utah Pride Center’s SAGE program, for example, brings together 1,000 LGBTQ elders each year through various potluck dinners and holiday gatherings. EngAGE Utah provides opportunities for older adults to bond over artistic endeavors such as music or community theater.
written by Susan Lacke