One of the biggest risks for aging folks is to become isolated from neighbors. Feeling connected to the community is important for people of any age, but seniors in particular may be adversely affected by isolation.
Many seniors do not have family members living close by, and having good relationships with neighbors can make up for the lack of family closeness. In addition, isolation can contribute to health problems, according to a study conducted at the University of Chicago, by adversely impacting mental health.
Poor mental health, including depression and anxiety, can increase health-risk behaviors, like cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse. Seniors with depression may experience loss of appetite and sleeplessness, and physical ailments may soon follow.
What can caregivers do to help their loved ones become tied in with their neighborhood? First, caregivers can make a point of introducing themselves to the neighbors. They can also introduce their old folks to their neighbors, if they don't already know each other. An exchange of phone numbers may also be in order, with the initial understanding the numbers are to be used for emergency situations only. Don't let the neighbors think you are trying to assign them responsibility for your loved one.
Caregivers can encourage their loved ones to reach out to their neighbors, after introductions have been made. This reaching-out can take many forms, from a simple wave out the window to passing children, to making a simple, favorite dessert. Most families will welcome these friendly, non-intrusive gestures. In addition, having an alert neighbor may make them feel better about going away on vacation, knowing any unusual activities will be noticed. The senior will feel socially-connected as well and may be more inclined to venture into other social activities.
For more information, contact the BHSN Caregiver Resource Center.
The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620. Information is also periodically provided by the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center. They may be reached at 565-4543 or 565-4625.