Community Education Helps Combat Loneliness

Connexeo - 03/08/2018

Are you lonely? If you are, you aren’t alone. The AARP found that 35% of adults age 45 and above categorize themselves as lonely. Loneliness later in life can sneak up on you. Life grows busy with careers, children and other priorities. It can be easy to gradually lose touch with friends and family throughout our lives and find ourselves with a much smaller social circle down the line.

Unfortunately, loneliness can be more than just an uncomfortable feeling. Studies have shown there is a link between social isolation and poor health. Loneliness can be dangerous for senior citizens’ health, says Diane Reier, Lifestyle Specialist. It can lead to a lack of connection with others, depression, high blood pressure, poor emotional health and a decline in physical health. Adults who suffer from loneliness have a higher mortality rate than adults who have a thriving social life. Additionally, lonely individuals are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s late in life than those who are not lonely.

With all the risks associated with loneliness, what can you do to prevent it? Socialize seems to be the answer. The American Public Health Association did a study of women 79 years old or older who were classified as dementia free at the beginning of the study. They found that women who maintained larger social networks reduced their risk of dementia and helped delay or prevent cognitive impairment. The study defined a large social network as three or more relationships. In fact, they found that women who had daily contact with friends or family cut their risk of dementia in half.

The benefits of social engagement go beyond reducing the risk of dementia. Regular social interaction reduces the risk of depression, improves self-esteem and creates a sense of belonging that is often missing in the lives of older adults. A social circle also helps adults develop healthy habits (exercise, healthy eating or hygiene) by providing a level of accountability.

Another way to help prevent dementia in old age is to continue to learn new skills. A study found that learning something new, like photography or cooking, can help maintain cognitive function. Doing puzzles, crosswords or other complex tasks can improve memory, especially when distracted. This helps promote new brain cell growth and improves memory.

These can sound like easy enough remedies to a difficult problem, but it can seem hard to start. Many of us have trouble making friends outside of work. Leaving the workforce can make it trickier to make friends. Needing to move away from your home to an assisted living community and losing a spouse or other close family members adds to the difficulty in making friends.

Community education is a great option for older people who are looking for ways to connect with new friends while engaging with their community. Classes offered through local Community Education programs are often less expensive than classes through community colleges or universities. Typically, they focus on helping people learn new hobbies like painting, acting or even speaking a new language. Community Education often offers classes that involve physical activity, like dancing or yoga, that encourage people to get out and move.

Adults who join a local class will find themselves with a group of people they now see regularly. Plus, they will instantly have something in common with the people in their class. Having a shared interest and a scheduled time to meet facilitates building connections and creating a sense of community. Even a class that meets once a week will give people a sense of routine, something to anticipate and a place to belong in the community.

Javascript is not enabled. This may affect content rendering. You can enable Javascript in your Settings Menu.