Social Isolation and Health

I ran across this article HERE. It’s about a town in England who filled the gaps in services between agencies and community groups, and employed “community connectors” to find ways to connect lonely people with others and get them the support they needed. In the three years after this started, emergency hospital admissions fell by 17%!

People are social animals. We don’t do well in isolation. Babies literally die without human contact, and we are adversely affected at all ages not only mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. Google “social isolation and health” and you will find many articles and studies to back this up.

I worked in home health for many years and saw many seniors living alone, and I worried about them. Yes, there was a senior center and other activities in town, but how do you get there if you are unable or unfit to drive? Public transportation had a low cost option to get you to the doctor, but not the supermarket or senior center and taxis are unaffordable for many. Families are often too far away, and some don’t get along. People don’t want to bother anyone by asking for help, and neighbors can be totally unaware that there is someone who needs help. People want to be able to live in their own homes and resist going to independent living or other facilities, and often couldn’t afford them even if they liked the idea. I know many people I saw went for days without seeing or talking with another person and that is not good, not good at all.

It’s also the culture in the US. We lived in the same Sarasota FL house for 17 years, and we didn’t even know everyone in our block. There were a few houses where the garage door would go up, the owner would drive in, the door would go down, and that’s all we ever saw. We walked the dog regularly but unless neighbors are outside and willing to chat for a moment, you didn’t get to know them. I also did some traveling on my bicycle which I blogged about here. I cut it short not from fatigue or danger or anything else, but because of loneliness. I was connected by phone and internet with my family every day, but to be out on the road feeling invisible day after day, it became too much.

One of the many reasons I love Panama and the culture here, is this isolation is much less likely to happen. I don’t think I’ve ever greeted anyone without a return greeting. There are buses everywhere, and I’ve seen them drive right up to the door of someone who couldn’t walk well. Neighbors are very aware of anyone living alone, especially a senior, and stop by to say hello and offer help if needed. Families are usually close knit and nearby, if not living under the same roof. I heard a story about a widowed Russian lady who didn’t speak Spanish, but the neighborhood worked together to visit her every day, bring her food, and take care of her. This is very much a culture of relationships, where friends and family are more important than anything else. I’ve had flat tires and other issues with my bicycle, and every single time multiple people, people I didn’t know, came to me to offer help. It’s a really nice feeling to know you aren’t alone. And, another plus is the great deal of respect for older people, especially now that I am becoming one.

If you have a neighbor living alone, go make friends. Take your kids if you have them. Kids are wonderful medicine for older people! In these divisive times though, any connection and human touch is a nice thing.

Advertisements

About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
This entry was posted in Panama. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Social Isolation and Health

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great post Kris, it’s so easy to become a hermit when no one tries to say hi. We’re the same here in Baja, its a community not a bunch of individual houses….

    Like

  2. oldsalt1942 says:

    I miss that about Panama up here in Bradenton Beach. My neighbors were always dropping by to bring me some plantains or yucca from their back yards or drop off tamales when they’d made a batch. Even when I’d moved from my house by the river after four years my old neighbors would stop by to share a moment with me if they were in the neighborhood.

    One thing you don’t experience, going everywhere, insulated in your car, is being the only gringo/a riding on the bus. I can’t begin to tell you how many times people would sit beside me and ask if they could practice their English skills. Or, when I’d make my little trips of just getting on a bus to see where it went I’d always end up chatting with the locals. They were interested in my take on their country and culture and I was, most likely, the only foreigner they’d ever actually talked to.

    Here, though, I talk to everybody. Probably picked that up from living down there. Since it’s a tourist trap with people from all over and since there’s the free trolley that travels the island people use it rather than drive places. As we sit waiting for the trolley to arrive 99% of the time I ask, “Where are YOU from?” I’ve talked to people from all over the U.S. as well as people from England, Germany, some Swedes the other day. But I’d STILL like to be back in Chiriqui…I’ll never get that out of my system. I even named my boat La Chiricana…

    Like

  3. Kathleen Phillips-Hellman says:

    Kris, the friendliness and willingness to speak, are two of the reasons I will move to Panama as soon as my house in the US sells. I have my visa, bank account, and cedula and although I am 71 years old and a widow, I have felt very comfortable and welcomed in Panama over the past two years. Your postings are a great encouragement to my dream. Thank you.

    Kathleen

    On Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 2:54 PM, The Panama Adventure wrote:

    > Kris Cunningham posted: “I ran across this article HERE. It’s about a town > in England who filled the gaps in services between agencies and community > groups, and employed “community connectors” to find ways to connect lonely > people with others and get them the support they needed.” >

    Like

  4. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    I think I got the bug from Nena, we talk to everybody. When she goes anywhere, within 15 minutes she knows everyone in the room and their history. We have seldom met anyone who didn’t respond to a Hello, or Howareya. When I was a teacher, my Paki students asked me what “howdee” meant because that was how I greeted them each morning. Nena’s sister arrived here in 2006, worked for 10 years, is retired and on SS and living in a retirement apartment complex. Although her English is not great, everyone in the building knows her and she knows all of them. (I think she “hooked” them on empanadas!)

    One thing about Panama, if you talk with someone for more than 10 minutes, you will learn that they will know someone that you know. In Chiriqui especially, the family threads run everywhere through the province.

    Like

    • I’ve heard that Texas is more friendly. In the Pacific Northwest I usually got startled and uncomfortable looks when I greeted someone, and rarely a response. You are right about Chiriquí. If I’m out with a Panamanian friend they always see people they know, classmates, coworkers, family, friends, neighbors.. always happens.

      Like

  5. Felipe says:

    I think places without air conditioned houses might be more social. You sit outside to catch a breeze, you can hear if you’re missing something out on the street. The bus comment is totally true. Isolated in our cars, sitting in traffic, working too many hours – not conducive to social interaction. Nice post about the benefits of Panama!

    Like

    • Even with air conditioning, I notice people are often out in the late afternoon when it cools off. Kids are playing in the street, people are tending their gardens, walking, exercising, and visiting each other. Our neighborhood bus is like family traveling together. It’s so nice.

      Like

    • oldsalt1942 says:

      Air conditioning and television killed neighborhood cohesiveness in the United States.

      Like

      • We were just talking about that. It also killed the old style home with big porches, overhangs, ventilation, etc for natural cooling, and natural hanging out outdoors.

        Like

  6. There were a few houses where the garage door would go up, the owner would drive in, the door would go down, and that’s all we ever saw.
    We can relate to how that statement fits like a “T” where we lived in the US as well.

    Totally agree with this sentence:
    One of the many reasons I love Panama and the culture here, is this isolation is much less likely to happen. I don’t think I’ve ever greeted anyone without a return greeting.

    Great post!

    Like

  7. chugwa says:

    We love living here, the people are so friendly and easy to talk to even for an Aussie that doesn’t speak much Spanish. Thanks Kris a great blog once again.

    Like

Comments are closed.