Modern technology has helped us stay more connected than ever through social apps and word games like Words With Friends. Still, despite technological advances, many Americans report that, as a society, we may be lonelier than ever.
Forced social isolation saw many stuck in their homes, unable to see friends or family, further exaggerating that many people were already increasingly lonely and isolated before the global pandemic, especially those over 60.
However, it's important to recognize that social isolation isn't an inevitable part of aging, despite stereotypes telling us otherwise. In fact, there are numerous empowering strategies and activities that can help retirees maintain a vibrant and fulfilling social life way into the 70s.
Significant research indicates that isolation is a leading public health concern, as loneliness and social isolation can negatively affect the body and mind. Scientifically having less people to interact with regularly is known to increase the production of cortisol, the body's stress hormone, impairing cognitive performance and increasing risks for health complications. Here are some statistics and ideas to keep in mind on the impact of social isolation and how it can affect the human body.
So, with these in mind, what can we do about it?
From crosswords to beating your friends on a Words with Friends (WWF) game, there are tons of ways that those over 60 (and younger) can enjoy using technology – even if you don't know all the internet jargon! Get playing daily word games like WWF and online with your friends. Plus, brain training games for older adults are scientifically proven to improve cognitive skills, so it's a win-win!
Friendships come and go; that is true. However, the idea that new friendships only begin in your 20s is a complete lie, and best of all, the health benefits of having a strong network of friends and social support groups seem to increase the older you get.
With technology, you can find old childhood friends or pals from college that you might have lost touch with, nurture friendships, and keep the mind sharp by competing against each other in daily word games, or discover new connections at meetup groups, check out AARP communities, or find events that interest you in your local area.
If you've got a bit of extra time or decided to retire, there are many ways you can give back to your community through volunteering.
First, don't volunteer for something out of peer pressure (because you feel obliged or because you think you need to.) Secondly, only volunteer for something you're truly passionate about. Don't know what that is yet? Check out AARP's volunteering portal, where you can explore causes where you feel you can make the most difference.
You may or may not dream of doing a bungee jump or traveling the world (if you do, go for it!), but there is always time to take stock of what you want to do with it. Maybe you've been putting off learning how to cook a specific dish, or maybe you want to figure out how to take the perfect picture or set up an online business.
There are endless hobbies that get you out of your comfort zone and can help you meet like-minded individuals.
For the adrenaline junkies, Non-profit MyJump works with older adults to achieve their dreams and challenge ageism at the same time.
According to research linking pet ownership and social isolation, pets are an underrecognized channel for building social capital, meaning the more pets around, the better a community or neighborhood thrives - essentially, pet ownership facilitates more social interactions.
Additionally, canine companionship can get people out of the house to go for walks, increasing blood flow and endorphins. Plus, the animal-human bond can give people a routine and increase feelings of happiness and contentment.
The benefits of intergenerational relationships are boundless! It can provide older adults and younger people the chance to see other perspectives, increase empathy, learn from each other, and beat ageist stereotypes. If you have an interesting life story and enjoy spending time with people of all ages, engaging in intergenerational projects is a great way to beat social isolation.
You can check out local events or what your local library has going on. UK-based Generations Together also has a ton of events and resources.
Beat the isolation blues and get moving! We're not saying run a marathon (though you could if you want) but moving how feels good for you is key. Exercise reduces adrenaline and stress hormones, which helps reduce anxiety and tension. As we age, we naturally move less, and sometimes it might feel like our bodies are against us, but any exercise is better than none. If getting out of the house is hard, call a friend and do a fun Motown hits chair workout together.
While pilates is well known to strengthen muscles, help with balance, and decrease back pain. Go to a local class and meet like-minded individuals who are also looking after their health. Head to Sporty Over Forty for some inspiration!
We all need some support sometimes, so don't let the feeling of burden or embarrassment stop you from asking for it; you deserve support, wellness, and companionship regardless of age. There are many ways to ask for support. The American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry lists over 500 professionals in the U.S. and Canada. Though many psychiatrists provide medication rather than psychotherapy, they can be a good referral resource.
Believe that journaling is just for 20-year-olds? Think again. Sixty and Me have some great tips for practicing gratitude, which could also help you explain your feelings to family members who don't understand or help you to manage your emotions.