BARBARA?E. RILEY, Ohio Department of Aging Director
AS WE grow older, we all want to be healthy, active and independent for as long as possible. We try to watch what we eat, get some exercise and learn all we can to be physically healthy. However, if we only focus on keeping our bodies well, we are missing half of the equation.
While most of us focus on the physical aspects of health in improving our well-being, the social dimension of our lives is equally important. Social wellness involves the ability of people to successfully engage, interact and maintain healthy, meaningful relationships. It means feeling connected to, participating in and contributing to the welfare of the community.
For older adults, social connectedness is often a priority need. Studies show that socially isolated people are more susceptible to illness and have a death rate two to three times higher than those who are not socially isolated. Social wellness can have a profound impact on a person’s ability to deal with stress. Those who lack adequate social supports are more vulnerable to safety risks such as elder abuse and substance misuse. A healthy social network helps to promote emotional and physical well-being, decreasing the risks of depression, isolation, loneliness, poor health and decreased life expectancy.
So how can you develop and improve your social wellness? Spending the majority of your time at home, watching television, will not help. Just as you work to develop habits that enhance your physical wellness, you can work to develop your social wellness.
Volunteering your time and energy is a good way to start. It also might help keep you strong and vital as you age. Researchers have found that volunteering is associated with a lower cumulative odds of frailty. Volunteering connects you to like-minded people who are working toward the same goals, while enabling you to give back to your community.
When looking for an opportunity to volunteer, choose a cause that you are passionate about, whether it is children, animals, hospitals, politics, libraries, sports or the arts. Then, call those organizations and ask what they need. Find an opportunity that matches your skills, interests and schedule because you will be more likely to stick with it.
Seniors also can contribute their job skills and expertise to community projects and organizations. Senior Corps connects older adults with the people and organizations that need them most, helping seniors become mentors, coaches or companions to people in need through three special programs:
∫ Foster Grandparents connects volunteers age 60 and over with children and young people with exceptional needs.
∫ The Senior Companion Program brings together volunteers age 60 and over with adults in their community who have difficulty with the simple tasks of day-to-day living.
∫ RSVP offers “one stop shopping” for all volunteers 55 and over who want to find challenging, rewarding and significant service opportunities in their local communities.
Ombudsman volunteers are advocates who provide a voice for the concerns of long-term care consumers, primarily in nursing homes. After completing a nationally recognized certification program, they make regular visits to assigned nursing homes, make observations about the facility and engage residents in conversation. They ask about problems or concerns residents may have regarding care and services provided at the facility. Associates make residents feel comfortable and let them know they have an advocate on their side.
You also can find places to volunteer through organizations, such as Volunteer Match.Org, Serve.org, Idealist.org and 1-800-Volunteer.org.