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Socializing, Health Care Important for Older Adults

Scott Monge

Many adults struggle when they reach the point in time where parent-child relationships seem to transition through a role reversal. Throughout most people’s lives, parents assume the role of caretaker. But as parents age, their needs grow, and adult children more often are the ones taking on their parents’ financial and health concerns.

When family members begin to show signs of declining health or inability to care for themselves, one of the most difficult issues is addressing living situations. Some people are able to care for their parents in their homes. Some can afford around-the-clock supervised care or assisted-living facilities. And some turn to nursing homes and support organizations for help.

Reaching this stage isn’t easy for parents or children. And some find it difficult to adapt to the changes and determine what type and level of care is best. Whatever living arrangements the family decides on, researchers stress the importance of including social interaction to the list of daily needs.

Social relationships are central to overall health and critical in maintaining personal health. British researchers recently released a study on the role of social isolation and loneliness in mortality rates of older men and women. The study, completed by the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University College of London, concluded that the most socially isolated subjects had a 26 percent greater risk of dying.

The study’s researchers and lead author Andrew Steptoe suggested that older people with little social interaction may not be getting the care they need, with no one around to ensure they’re eating right and taking their medication.

Creating a schedule for family members to visit a parent in a senior care facility or one who lives alone is very important. But for times when family members can’t make it, there are many programs and services that help reduce social isolation. Churches are a great source of activities for seniors. Some even have telephone ministry services for those who are homebound. Senior and community centers often have exercise classes. Involvement in annual charities and holiday toy drives can also be a great social tool.

Family members with a little technological know-how can provide Internet access to their parents’ home. Emails, web forums and social media offer many seniors contact with family and others that fosters a sense of community. Libraries are another great resource. Book clubs and discussion groups provide a lot of interaction and common interests.

Loneliness and isolation can become overwhelming for many older adults. Sometimes it can even lead to depression. Putting an emphasis on maintaining social interactions can make a significant difference in the physical and mental health of seniors, and as the research shows, it can even extend some people’s lives.

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