By Suzanne Reed
Greetings Friends! This is the first of monthly Blogs I’ll be posting to the Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance Website. I have topics I plan to cover, but I want to know what issues interest you. You email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments on this current topic are also welcome.
A report issued recently by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, warns of the health consequences of loneliness and isolation in the aging population:
“Loneliness and social isolation aren’t just social issues — they can also affect a person’s physical and mental health, and the fabric of communities,” said Dan Blazer, J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus and professor of community and family medicine at Duke University, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “Addressing social isolation and loneliness is often the entry point for meeting seniors’ other social needs — like food, housing, and transportation.”
Whether or not we live alone or far away from our families as I do, we are all at risk of loneliness and isolation. Three years ago, at age 69, I retired from what was basically a 24/7 job. I soon discovered that my social life had revolved around my work. Most of my work-related friends were much younger than I and had families to attend to and other social connections. I pursue some volunteer activities and have an active hobby. Nonetheless, it was clear to me – I needed to make some new friends “to do stuff with,” like have coffee, meet for lunch, see a movie, or just have a heartfelt chat.
Several things were holding me back. I don’t like to drive at night as I don’t see as well as I used to. I’m actually shy around strangers (people who know me will deny this is true!). I don’t enjoy large gatherings, especially since the hearing in my right ear is not so good and it’s hard to make conversation in the midst of background chatter. Despite being lonely sometimes, I do enjoy my alone time and hanging out with my pets. Yes, it’s good you can entertain yourself, but don’t fall into this trap – it can lead to isolation.
Here is what worked for me. I checked out meet-up (https://www.meetup.com/) to find some local activities that matched my interests. I joined the Sacramento Community Skills Exchange (https://communityskillexchange.timebanks.org/) which is active in our region. I attended one of their monthly potluck dinners in my city (West Sacramento) and met some interesting folks with whom I now socialize. You can find other opportunities to meet new people by clicking on Social Connection here: https://www.yolohealthyaging.org/resources.
Whatever you do, do something. Sometimes you just have to reach out and ask. Invite some people you’ve met that you think you might like to know better over for tea or to play games (I love Mexican Train, which is ideal for four people). If you need a ride to attend a local gathering that interests you, check out services provided here (https://www.yolohealthyaging.org/transportation, or ask a family member or friend to go with you. I promise it will be worth the effort.
Suzanne Reed is the past Vice Chair of the Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance. Retired from the CA State Senate where she was a Chief of Staff, Suzanne was also the Chief Consultant to the Senate Select Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care.