NDSU Extension Service - Mercer County

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Avoid Loneliness and Isolation

elderly, coping, loneliness, isolation

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

In North Dakota, we live in a part of the country where winter’s colder temperatures and icy streets can keep us from getting out and engaging with family, friends and community members on a regular basis. Staying cooped up indoors without social connections can lead to isolation and loneliness.

However, long winters aren’t the only causes of isolation and loneliness. Others include living alone, not being able to drive, disability or poor health, the death of a spouse or partner, mobility or sensory impairments, a low income, being a caregiver, cognitive or psychological vulnerabilities, location (rural, unsafe or inaccessible neighborhood/community), a small social network and inadequate support.

In 2015 the older adult population (age 65+) in Mercer County was 1,502 compared to 1,233 in 2010. These numbers represent a large portion of our total population. Older women in particular are at high risk; they account for more than 60 percent of isolated older adults.

Scientists are finding that our connections with other people - friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, clubs and religious groups - can have powerful effects on our health and well-being. Persistent loneliness and social isolation have been linked to poorer health and increased risk for depression, dementia and early death, just to name a few issues.

Older adults and others at risk for loneliness and social isolation need different types of support and interventions to prevent the problem of isolation. The North Dakota State University Extension Services has resources on its Aging Well website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/aging to help you avoid isolation. The local county Extension office offers many educational opportunities to enhance your health and well-being. Plus, you get the benefit of connecting with others.

Here are some suggestions that may make a difference:

  • Get physical during the day and stay active. Take a walk, clean out a closet or join a class at a local gym.
  • Reach out to others. An unexpected phone call or email can be a meaningful gesture. Invite a friend to join you for coffee or lunch.
  • Keep your mind busy and active with simple pleasures, such as reading, doing crossword puzzles, or engaging in a hobby or new interest.
  • Consider volunteering your time and talents because helping others can bring meaning into your days and make you feel part of something larger than yourself.
  • Do something positive, such as planning your spring garden and beginning to grow some plants indoors.
  • Solve transportation issues if driving is a problem. Check into volunteer or formal transportation options in your community.
  • Learn how technology can keep you connected to family and friends via Facebook, texts, and emails, as well as help you find out about interesting local events.

As we muddle through these last weeks of winter and look forward to spring, looking for ways to bring joy into our day is important. Taking small steps to connect with others and keep a positive outlook can make a big difference in warding off loneliness and isolation.

Source: Jane Strommen, NDSU Extension gerontology specialist, 701-231-5948, jane.strommen@ndsu.edu

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