Haven’t heard about the hashtag #SquadGoals? Just ask your local teen about it. It’s the catch phrase they flash when they are sharing a photo of friends on social media.
But the concept of the ‘squad’ is perhaps more important to those over the age of 50 than a 16 year-old social media user. That’s because older adults are more likely to lose social connections – and lacking friends can result in real medical problems. Ingrid Parkhurst, center nurse coordinator at Mount Vernon Adult Day Health Care, spends all day, each day, ensuring the participants in her care have social connections, and shared her experiences and tips for staying social.
Loneliness is a serious health topic
“Research proves loneliness leads to illness. It can impact memory, physical well-being, mental health and life expectancy,” Ingrid said. Loneliness is recognized as a health problem. In Great Britain, they even appointed a Minister of Loneliness.
There are many reasons why people tend to develop loneliness later in life. Moving away from friends, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation are all contributing factors, according to Ingrid. “It becomes a vicious cycle,” she said. “As one gets older, they can develop health issues which limit their ability to get out and socialize, and then as they develop loneliness, their health issues can worsen.”
How to diagnose and treat loneliness
Ingrid advises caregivers to monitor for loneliness in their loved one, because it can be diagnosed and treated. Here is how:
- Ask the doctor to screen for loneliness. Physicians can assess and address loneliness in the exam room.
- Understand that having ‘connections’ is a different experience for everyone. Someone who is introverted might enjoy alone time in a group setting, where as an extrovert might need lots of interaction. “Bottom line is that everyone needs to socialize to stay healthy, both the outgoing and the shy,” said Ingrid.
- Get social resources. Adult Day Health Care, Neighbor-to-Neighbor, and the Senior Centers are just three examples of Fairfax County programs that promote socialization among older adults. “Here in our county, there are so many resources that mobility issues or cognitive changes should not prohibit the ability for one to get out and socialize,” Ingrid said.
“They get me”
The Adult Day Health Care program captures participants’ social history in order to develop a program specialized to their needs and interests.
“Here, every day, you have someone to talk to and have lunch with. And they don’t need to worry about how they come across or stress if their memory has changed,” said Ingrid. “I see it all the time. Participants find a friend and tell me, ‘I can be who I am here.’ They find people they can connect with. They don’t need to worry about facing rejection.”