Images of 'Family' Holidays Contrast with Loneliness for Many Seniors

by Morgan Montalvo


As  America’s population skews older, poverty and social isolation among  the nation’s elderly are generating increasing dialogue among families  and experts on aging, News Radio 1200  WOAI reports.


Government  data as analyzed by the American Association of Retired Persons places  the number of people over the age of 65 living near or below the poverty  level at one in seven, or  about 37 million senior households, and the number of elders with  little to no social or family contact at one in five.


Financial  insecurity and loneliness during holidays can magnify feelings of  desperation and hopelessness, says Emily Allen, AARP Foundation’s Senior  Vice President for Programs.


“Perhaps  a life transition has occurred,” Allen says. “They have lost a spouse  or a partner, or have experienced hearing loss or the inability to  continue to drive.”


She  says with families together for the holidays, adult children of seniors  and grandchildren can help by developing personal inventories that  assess a senior relative's physical, mental  and social health.


“It  can be the start of a conversation just to say, ‘How do we ensure that  this older family member remains engaged?’” Allen says. “Not only with  the family, but remember it’s also  about sustained and meaningful relationships in their communities.” 


Allen says elder health inventories should also include an emergency plan in case of illness or a man-made or natural disaster.


Questions for an older family member’s personal inventory, Allen says, can include: “How often does Mom or Dad get out of the house?”  “What’s the size of their social network?” 


“Who might they have that they can call in the event of an emergency?” “It’s questions like that that you can use as the basis for having that  dialogue with an older adult that you love in your life,” Allen says.  


She  also emphasizes the importance of in-person visits as often as possible  over phone or video calling, especially for children and young adults  used to “communicating” via texts and  social media.


“Technology  can be there,” Allen says, “but sometimes even the younger generation  needs to be prompted to think about ‘How might I talk to my grandparent,  my parent, a close loved one  who is older?’ 


As  stereotypes about aging shift from images of sedentary, gray-haired  elders playing board games in drab retirement centers to those of  affluent, active seniors scaling peaks or white-water  kayaking, Allen says it's time for a reality-based national debate  about aging, deciding in advance how best to care for a future majority  senior population, reducing current poverty and isolation rates among  the aged, and rediscovering the collective wisdom  of over-65 Americans.

 “This  is a population that is rich with experience and stories and just a  lifetime of thoughts and advice.  If we leave that segment of the  population out, we’re really missing out  as a country and as a community.


“We can’t leave their voices out,” Allen says.

To learn more about reducing social isolation among seniors, go to:


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