July is Family Reunion Month and while it is not something we see quite as often – and now even more so perhaps at risk of becoming a thing of the past due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a societal significance to the gathering of ones’ many generations. My family gathers at the same pavilion at Venice Beach for decades and as the standard bearers of my family passed away, coupled with the virus, we find our own family at a standstill. There are many consequences to the erosion-like effect of fading family gatherings. Loneliness and mental health issues continue to rise as the United States and the world slowly climbs out from the staggering isolation that, if not initially caused by the virus, was certainly exacerbated.
With the rise of social media, we have all fallen victim to having many “friends” but not actual human connection. The Survey Center on American Life recently released findings that only 15% of men have more than ten friends, and only 50% have more than four friends compared to a 1990 Gallup Study showing 40% and 75% respectively. The declining trend was repeated with women. In the survey, 11% had more than 10 friends and 49% had more than four while the 1990 study showed 28% and 69% respectively. Future evidence should show these numbers largely influenced in the last year by lockdowns and travel limits due to COVID-19.
Isolation effects everyone with particular emphasis on older adults. A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) found that more than a quarter of those 65 and
older consider themselves to be socially isolated. The study found striking evidence that social isolation was associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia, a 32% increased risk of stroke and greatly increased the risk for premature death from all causes – even potentially greater than the effects of smoking and obesity.
The health issues caused by loneliness can be as detrimental as smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. AARP looked at about four million survey participants and found that the yearly increase in Medicare spending for those that were living alone was 6.7 billion dollars a year.
So how do we combat this rising threat to our communities, our neighbors and our own families? Quality in home care and companionship is perhaps the most accessible tool for families both near and far to use to help their loved one avoid unnecessary health risks. Comfort Keepers prides its motto that includes the belief of Elevating the Human Spirit and, from a couple of hours a day to live in care, it can be an enhancing and empowering resource for families and loved ones.
Another great alternative is to move into a communal living residence. Senior Care Authority focuses on finding ways to help families continue to enjoy and connect with life while maintaining independence. Remember that “home” is where the heart is and there are a variety of communities that can help you build a home in the safety of assisted living. Humans need to see, discuss and physically touch friends. The good news is that there are dozens of wonderful resort- style assisted living communities in our area. However, it can be difficult to shop and decide what is best for your health, your family and your pocketbook. The consultants at Senior
Care Authority can walk you through this overwhelming process and the fee is paid by the assisted living communities.
If you get the chance to visit your family this July, or in the next few months, listen as they discuss their friendships. Make sure they are engaging with others in their peer group. Look around for signs of loneliness. After you leave, follow up and stay in touch. We can make Family Reunion month last all year.
Jacob Winge is the director of business development for Comfort Keepers of Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties. He can be reached at jacobwinge@comfortkeepers. com. Cynthia Perthuis is an elder care strategist with Senior Care Authority. She can be reached at cynthia@ scanyfl.com.
Jacob Winge and Cynthia Perthuis
Special to Fort Myers News-Press USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA
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