According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are nearly 50 million Americans who are currently age 65 or older. While there’s nothing that says turning 65 automatically requires one to retire or change their lifestyle, it does present an opportunity to look at some potential options for the future.
“We tend to think that we only need to move into a retirement community when we are physically unable to take care of ourselves,” says Thelma Shaffer, director of marketing and admissions at Mennowood Retirement Community in Newport News. “However, as true as that may be, there is another side we need to think about. There never seems to be a good time to consider getting some assistance, and there are so many options available. So, it’s not a bad idea to start doing some research early on—not only about your physical needs, but also about your emotional and mental desires.”
Statistics from the AARP Foundation indicate that more than one in five adults aged 65 or older may be affected by isolation. From the outside, things may appear normal, but on the inside, those who are aging may feel discouraged and despondent.
Loneliness is a common emotion when someone feels alone, separated from others or unsupported and distressed. The danger of loneliness is especially acute in later life when social resources decline and illness accumulates, which can have a major impact on independence. Not all people who live alone will describe themselves as lonely. However, when living alone leads to social isolation, there can be health consequences.
“Loneliness and isolation are not the same thing,” says Shaffer. “Loneliness is how people perceive their life experience and whether or not they feel isolated. There are several things that contribute to isolation, including if a senior has available transportation. If a senior is no longer comfortable driving and they are unable to find alternative transportation, they will tend to remain in their homes, and they can feel cut off from the rest of the world.”
On the emotional side, the perception of inadequate social support often brings on depression, which, if severe and untreated, can increase disabilities, loss of weight, disturbed sleep and even thoughts of suicide. Loneliness can also lead to a self-defeating sense of hopelessness and helplessness that can further perpetuate isolation. It becomes an unrelenting, vicious cycle.
“Social isolation results in a lack of opportunities for social engagement and mental stimulation—activities that are thought to keep the brain in good condition and reduce dementia,” says Shaffer. “Many of our seniors do not know how to use computers to keep connected with distant relatives on social media, and the art of talking on the phone seems to be decreasing. So how do we keep our parents or ourselves active and engaged in life? Finding the right avenue may include joining a community. Social interaction can bring excitement back into their lives.”
According to Shaffer, it is important to do your research when looking at retirement communities. Make unscheduled visits to different sites. Find out what the culture is and what the atmosphere feels like. Look at the residents to see if they are happy and engaged. Also, watch to see how the staff interacts with residents. Community living is more than just meeting physical needs; it can become an extended family.
“The need to find purpose becomes more crucial as we age,” says Shaffer. “As we get older and start to lose loved ones and friends, there is a sense of loneliness that is hard to explain. The art of participating and giving back to the community becomes more important to feel valuable again. Mennowood provides an active and social environment. Exercise is an important element to staying healthy—not only physically but mentally as well. We offer social events scheduled throughout each week, including shopping trips and opportunities to go out to eat or enjoy a scenic tour. At Mennowood, it’s more than just moving into a new home. It’s about being part of our family.”
Mennowood Retirement Community
13030 Warwick Blvd., Newport News