As a physician who cares for older adults in Phoenix, I see the profound impact that social isolation and loneliness have on our seniors. Those feelings can become even more pronounced as Valentine’s Day takes center stage, a difficult reminder of lost spouses and loved ones.
This February, we can help Phoenix’s seniors by honoring Random Acts of Kindness Week (Feb. 12-18) — which coincides with Valentine’s Day — as an opportunity to connect with the older adults in our lives. It could make a real difference to their health and well-being.
Loneliness is not simply a feeling. It can have devastating effects on a person’s health, especially those 65 and older, nearly one in four of whom are socially isolated. Not having adequate social connections substantially increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, depression and dementia, and raises the odds of premature death by 60%.
Simple acts of kindness and deliberate efforts to stay connected, not just for a week in February but throughout the year, can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Here’s what you can do:
• Regularly Check In: A visit, a phone or video call, a handwritten note, or even a Valentine’s card lets seniors know you’re thinking of them and that you care.
• Offer Your Wheels: Many seniors have limited mobility and access to transportation, preventing them from engaging in daily activities. Offering rides to appointments, activities or helping them complete errands can be a huge help, as well as a chance to spend time together.
• Get Them Connected: Help seniors set up and use technology to stay in touch with family and friends, participate in virtual events or explore new hobbies online.
• Be of Service: If you don’t have personal ties to older adults, volunteer with a local organization offering opportunities to spend time with seniors in conversation, teaching a skill or sharing a meal.
There are also many ways older adults can make new and lasting social connections to take control of and improve their own health and quality of life.
• Get Involved: Join local clubs, attend community events or participate in classes at senior centers, including CenterWell Senior Primary Care centers that offer health education, social events and more.
• Stay Active: Exercise classes, walking groups or gentle yoga can improve health and provide social interaction. Pursuing hobbies and learning new skills can also lead to new friendships and help prevent cognitive decline.
• Connect Digitally: Utilize social media, video calls and online groups to stay connected with family and community, especially during the winter months when flu and COVID-19 may require reduced in-person meetings.
• Perform Acts of Kindness: Offer your time and skills to help others; research shows those acts of kindness improve social connections and mental health.
This Valentine’s Day, use the power of kindness to improve the lives of seniors. By supporting them, we’re not just enhancing their health and well-being, we’re nurturing a community that values and respects its members of every age.
Diana Elizalde, M.D. is a geriatric medicine specialist for CenterWell Senior Primary Care.