How to keep seniors active members of the tribe

By Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center

Many older adults suddenly find themselves struggling to survive in situations of isolation and loneliness, often for the first time in their lives.

Such isolation can result from factors such as illness, the loss of a spouse or partner, mobility issues, lifestyle choices, and a decline in energy, among others, all of which can contribute to the shrinking of one’s social ties. And while living the life of a recluse may have its benefits for a select few, it’s not always a good approach to healthy living for the rest of us.

Experts agree that a sense of belonging is integral to human wellness, especially among seniors. In every way—biologically, cognitively, physically and spiritually—we are meant to belong, to be needed, to function as members of a tribe.

Seniors who aren’t able to engage in social settings may face serious health and behavioral problems, including an increased risk of

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Colon cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression

Staying connected and sharing similar interests with others is important at any age—but it’s all the more crucial for seniors, who may have more limited opportunities for social interactions.

Fortunately, life for seniors doesn’t have to be that way. The one immediate step older adults can take to improve their lives is to exercise.

While the exercise itself isn’t necessarily a remedy for isolation it can help reduce some of the many health problems associated with loneliness. Improved physical and mental health, is a good first step toward extending oneself and remaining active in a social environment.

  • Before beginning an exercise program, older adults should check with their physician, especially if they have health problems like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis.

However, exercise alone probably isn’t enough. Seniors also should make a point to maintain existing social relationships or generate new ones.

There’s a wide range of ways in which older adults can initiate and maintain social engagement.

  • Churches provide many outlets for volunteering and helping others.
  • Parks and recreation departments offer numerous low-cost classes in such diverse areas as arts and crafts, meditation, gardening, scrapbooking, music, and computer use.

In the process of learning and keeping the mind supple, older adults also may find opportunities to make new friends. To become a Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center volunteer and join the Auxiliary call 703-523-1345 or visit us online.

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