Man is a social animal. We as human beings are inherently dependent on each other. Yet, as we become older, more often than not we are having to deal with the consequences of aging and its associated health issues alone. This isolation can simply be attributed to some life changing events like the passing away of a partner, children moving to different cities, or an unexpected health deterioration. However, when distilled to a higher level, a fundamental disconnect between how our body and social structure changes with aging becomes clear.
Let’s consider the cycle of life from the perspective of John as an example: John was born into a very nourishing family in Queens, New York. His Mom was an Italian and worked as a nurse. His Dad was Irish and worked as a plumber. He had an elder brother and an elder sister. He also had a pretty large extended family with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Growing up he receives constant attention, love, and support from his immediate and extended families. His parents encouraged him and his siblings to study hard since they viewed it as fundamental to their success in life. John grew up to become a healthy 5’ 6” tall young man, who was a big Mets fan and worked as a Chartered Accountant at PwC. John continued to live in New York since he wished to stay close to family. He loved hanging around with his friends and family, so much so that he preferred to pay for all the food and drinks whenever they went out.
After a while, John met his future wife at a co-worker’s birthday party. They got married after 2 years and had two beautiful girls. He loved his daughters dearly. Both his daughters were good at school and studied diligently. When John was ~55 years old, both his daughters had moved out of their homes to go to college. Around the same time, John and his wife got divorced because of mutual differences. While all these changes are happening in John’s social life, up until now his body was mostly in the growth and maintenance phase. However, as John starts to live more alone, this also coincides with the time when his body after many years of working starts to show some hiccups, like any machine. John was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which made his bones weak and limited his physical movement. John still had a loving circle of friends and family, but due to his physical condition he was unable to go out often and tried to stay in touch over the phone. Thus unfortunately, when John is at his most vulnerable, he is left to handle a lot of responsibilities about his life and health by himself. However, it does not have to be this way and we need to change our social mentality to change this status quo.
The perils of aging on your body are not as simply described since it is almost like trying to block the leakage from multiple openings in a water tank with one hand. In order to repair and maintain this aging physical body, John needs to pay attention to multiple aspects regarding his health. This can range from managing his doctor’s appointments, taking the medications as prescribed to managing his finances so he can afford the medical care. Eventually, all of this also has a mental toll on John, especially when he feels that he does not have any meaningful social connections with whom he can share this burden. The health impact from feeling such social disconnection over a long time is to the tune of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Thus, an increase in social disconnection with aging affects the overall health and well being of older adults. As a society, we are starting to appreciate this problem more and more, especially through COVID19. Recognizing a problem is the first key step to solving it. Each and every one of us should recognize this problem and be willing to lend a helping hand to the older adults in our life. Our team will be discussing several solutions for driving meaningful social connections for seniors in future blog posts. To subscribe to our posts, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.