Thursday, July 10, 2008

It Takes a Village

You know the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s a saying that recognizes the importance of many different individuals in providing the care, training and nurturing that a child needs to grow and to thrive.

I’d like to purpose a slightly different version of this saying: “It takes a village to support a senior.”

Despite all of the work being done – good, important work – to help individuals prepare their homes for aging in place, I believe that this is only one part of the important set of tasks involved in supporting an aging population.

One of the biggest health and wellness – not to mention quality of life – indicators is social connectedness. Even with a fully accessible home, social isolation, loneliness and lack of mental stimulation are real concerns.

According to a study recently published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, social interaction was “just as effective as more traditional kinds of mental exercise in boosting memory and intellectual performance,” according to lead author Oscar Ybarra (as reported in Medical News Today).

We know, both from our own experience working with seniors and from more recent research that the keys to a longer, healthier life can be found in simple things: physical exercise, good nutrition and social interaction.

All three of these things can be compromised when a person (or couple) is living alone in increasingly isolated surrounding.

Physical exercise? Does walking from bedroom to bathroom to the La-Z-Boy count?

Good Nutrition? Cooking for one (or two very light appetites)? Ha – try eating out of the can, standing over the sink.

Social Interaction? If you count talking back to the TV announcers.

In my in-laws case, all of these areas have been so significantly compromised that their decline became readily evident. This couple, both active, gregarious individuals throughout life, now have no surviving neighbors or friends, find the public golf course too difficult to navigate most days, and don’t drive much anymore anyway.

For them, the social isolation has dramatically reduced their quality of life. Hence, our push to encourage them to join a community of other older people – a retirement living community.

They’ve made the decision to move now. All that’s left is to sell the house. Their faces are already brighter; their moods cheerier.

The rest of the story remains to be written, but for now, we’re voting with the village as the solution to the challenges of this stage of life.

1 comment:

  1. Clearly your parents have options. Many older adults do not have the option of selling their home and moving to another location. That is why we see a growing movement towards neighborhood and community programs for older adults which retain the intergenerational mix with an emphasis on socialization, wellness and access to services. The baby boomer trend to move to segregated communities when nearing retirement can increase societal tension when they ask for the polities they have separated themselves from for the new services they will need to remain independent.