Healthbeat: AARP on how to deal with social isolation

Healthbeat

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Social isolation has been a serious problem for seniors during the pandemic.

That isolation contributes to a host of physical and mental struggles that can take a terrible toll. Studies show isolation and loneliness are greater health risks than obesity. A leading advocacy group for seniors is urging greater steps be taken to prevent what’s become its own epidemic.

Imagine having no option but to look at the outside world from behind a window, with limited or no human interaction. It’s the reality for nearly one in four older Americans; a problem during the pandemic for sure, but one that’s existed long before that.

“You know, they might be living on their own or, have a mobility impairment or have lost their job,” explained AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson.

The health impacts are staggering from depression and cognitive decline to something as severe as premature death. Not all counties are created equal when it comes to social isolation. Take, for instance, Luzerne County.

“Luzerne County has about a 65 percent risk of social isolation for older adults so that means you need to be on the lookout. We all do,” said Ryerson.

It’s why AARP Foundation is releasing a first-of-its-kind online tool. It maps older adults’ risk of facing social isolation by looking at six key risk factors in adults 65 and older. It maps out much more than just if older adults are living alone.

“It looks at factors such as whether or not older adults are living with low income in an area or whether or not they have access to support services such as transportation,” said Ryerson.

While the social isolation risk score points to problems, Ryerson says it helps achieve something much more: awareness to check in on individuals struggling with social isolation.

“Ask them how they’re doing. Take time to listen to their answers,” said Ryerson. “If you’re headed out to get your groceries or you’re headed to the pharmacy ask them what their needs are and offer to make, run those errands for them.”

Just to underscore the seriousness of prolonged social isolation, studies show health risks associated with it are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

To learn more about AARP Foundation’s Social Isolation Risk Score and map, visit connect2affect.org.

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