July is Social Isolation Month at AARP. This month, we are calling attention to the millions of older adults across the nation who lack meaningful social contacts with family members, friends or neighbors. Why the focus on isolation? Because social isolation is associated with bad health consequences: For example, socially isolated older adults are more likely to have heart disease, infections, depression, and premature cognitive decline. What’s more, it significantly increases the risk of death among older adults. In fact, one study has likened the detrimental health effects of isolation to those associated with smoking up to 15 cigarettes every day.
If there’s one food that people associate with Valentine’s Day, it’s chocolate. More than half of those celebrating are expected to give candy this year, spending 1.8 billion dollars on sweet treats, according to the National Retail Federation. Although studies that find chocolate is good for your brain grab headlines, this Valentine’s Day consider skipping the candy and instead spending quality time with loved ones.
Last week the AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI) sponsored a Solutions Forum on Capitol Hill (view recording HERE) that put the spotlight on groundbreaking research showing how much social isolation—lack of meaningful contacts with others—costs the Medicare program.
Elizabeth “Izzy” Barnett, 80, is a full-time caregiver for her husband, Bob, who has dementia. They have no children or family to help and Izzy has lost contact with friends because she is busy taking care of Bob. Izzy’s is not alone in this situation. Millions of older adults are socially isolated—in other words, they lack meaningful relationships with family and friends. Life circumstances—losing a spouse, friends, and loved ones, or retirement—put older adults at increased risk for isolation.
It’s clear that a majority of people want to remain independent as they age, and now technology can help them do so. As a Northern Virginia resident and an employee of AARP, I was drawn to a recent local event titled “ Can Technology Help Older Arlingtonians Age Independently?”
Having college students and older adults with Alzheimer's sing together can change younger choir members' perceptions of dementia and reduce social isolation in those with the disease and their family caregivers. These are the findings of a pilot study conducted last spring at the John Carroll University in Ohio. (The study will be published this April in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias.)
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