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.