No need to feel lonely
Isolation and loneliness can befall anyone at any age. Check in on those around you.
The Baby Boomer generation is retiring. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 34 percent of people age 65 and older lived alone in 2014.
Senior isolation is alarmingly common, and will continue to be a problem as the senior population grows in record numbers. Isolated, lonely, alone: each word means something different to each senior.
It is a fact of life that social contacts tend to decrease as we age for a variety of reasons, including retirement; death of family members and friends; lack of mobility; the loss of reliable transportation; long term illness; or being the caregiver for a family member. And as a crisis gets worse, it's easy to become homebound, disconnected, overwhelmed, stranded — or in one word, isolated. Loneliness happens when people are forced to be alone.
Fortunately, the past couple of decades have seen increasing research into the risks, causes and prevention of loneliness in seniors. Social isolation and loneliness have been associated with increased risk of developing diabetes, sleep disorders, and other potentially life-threatening problems. Research has also shown a greater risk of high blood pressure among lonely people, as well as higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, weakened immune systems and Alzheimer's disease.
AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) offers these suggestions to reduce isolation and loneliness. Find one you'd like to try, then do it for a couple of weeks to see how it fits into your lifestyle. A wise master once said, "There is no failure in trying."
n Volunteer. A lot of seniors find that they benefit from having a sense of purpose, a structure to their routine and an opportunity to get out of the house. Volunteering can provide a feeling of helpfulness. The City of Lake Oswego has a volunteering website with many options. Portland Community College has Senior Studies Institute (SSI), an organization that provides senior peer teaching. You can attend three events for free; the annual membership is just $30. Their flagship program is current events and a local chapter meets at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center (LOACC) at 1 p.m. each Wednesday.
n Find transportation. If you are no longer driving, finding a reliable source of transportation is a priority. The LOACC has a van that can provide transportation from your home to senior dining, doctor appointments and shopping. LOACC Center Manager Ann Adrian encourages all to use the center's van. Just give them a call at 503-635-3758 to schedule a ride. You can donate funds to support the van service, too.
The bus is another alternative and Portland has some of the best public transportation in the country. An Honored Citizen bus pass from TriMet is $2.50 for the day or you can buy a monthly pass for $28. TriMet has the LIFT, which is a shared-ride service for those unable to use regular buses and trains. Registration is required, and a two and a half hour pass is $2.50
n Exercise. Most of us agree we need more exercise, and AARP recommends exercising six days a week for life. Group exercise programs, it turns out, are a wonderfully effective way to reduce isolation and loneliness in seniors. Exercise and moving our bodies releases endorphins, reduces stress and just makes us feel good. It gets our blood moving and provides oxygen rich blood to our brains. It can increase flexibility and strength — it may help prevent falls, provide a positive body image, and make our clothes fit better. Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation offers a variety of classes. As my Aunt Molly said, "The secret to aging is to be active."
n Share a meal. The act of eating with others is inherently social as people eat together and talk about their day. I like senior dining (i.e. Meal on Wheels) for lunch and I usually try to combine it with an activity afterward. If you are new or shy you can always start the conversation by asking fellow diners what they like to do at LOACC. You never know when an acquaintance will become a friend. I talked to Ruth at LOACC and she told me that "lunch is on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and starts at 11:30 a.m. The cost is $4, but no one gets turned away for lack of paying."
n Use social media. I joined Facebook to keep in contact with family and friends. I am now using it to post stories, such as my Jottings articles including one about a favorite fly fishing trip. But I have to agree with the AARP survey results that suggest the internet can make loneliness worse. So more than four years ago, I made a conscious choice to 'unplug,' which means I do not own a computer, tablet or cell phone. The library provides me with use of a computer for free for two hours a day, and printing is ten cents a page. I have a landline phone and a calling card for long-distance. As for my TV, I have a rabbit ears and it works great. I get a few channels, including OPB.
Kathryn Kendall is a member of the Jottings group of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.