Stay socially active: It may be good for mind as well as body


 

It’s often suggested that social isolation is one of the worst things that can happen to older adults — that they are more likely to live longer, healthier and happier by remaining active with a network of friends and activities.

new report from the Global Council on Brain Health raises the additional possibility that staying socially engaged helps maintain thinking skills and slow cognitive decline. The council, an international group of researchers and health professionals sponsored by AARP, examined existing data to produce a report that contains various socialization recommendations for seniors.

“We know that loneliness and social isolation can increase physical health risks for old people,” said Sarah Lock, the council’s executive director. “The GCBH’s consensus that people who are socially engaged have a lower risk for cognitive decline shows us just how important social connections are to brain health.”

The report comes out at the same time as a new AARP consumer survey that found nearly four of 10 adults ages 40 or older say they lack social connections. The problem of social isolation and loneliness in older Americans is the theme of a national campaign that was launched in November by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging in collaboration with the AARP Foundation.

The council’s new report includes 12 recommendations for social engagement, some of which seem, well, rather obvious, but we’ll go ahead and list them anyway in case they’re helpful:

1. Focus on relationships or social activities you enjoy most.

2. If you have no one to turn to for social activities, use professional assistance like telephone hotlines, drop-in centers, conversations with clergy, etc.

3. If feeling lonely, seek out new connections or opportunities.

4. If barriers like mobility or safety problems make it difficult to get out to interact, ask for help from someone you know.

5. Keep in touch frequently with at least one trustworthy confidante you can count on.

6. Even if married, foster other relationships in order to have additional connections besides your spouse.

7. Maintain regular communication, whether in person or by phone or email, with a network of relatives, friends and neighbors.

8. Volunteer to help individuals or organizations that can use your companionship or abilities.

9. Maintain intergenerational connections so you’re in touch with younger people as well, whether grandchildren or students you mentor at a local school or program.

10. Try adding relationships or social activities by visiting new locations.

11. Be willing to expand activities through signing up for organized classes, clubs or programs.

12. Consider starting your own new group to fill a void in a type of social activity that’s lacking in your community.

The report defined and described its recommended social engagement as “interacting with others, feeling connected to other people, doing purposeful activities with others and/or maintaining meaningful social relationships.” If you’re not doing any of that, you might want to work on it — for your own good.

Benefits of Intergenerational Care Centers

intergenerational programming

 in Programs.

BENEFITS FOR CHILDREN

In schools where older adults were a regular fixture, children had more improved reading scorescompared to their peers at other schools.

Interacting with older adults enables youth to develop social networks, communication skills, problem-solving abilities, positive attitudes toward aging, a sense of purpose and community service.

Youth involved in intergenerational mentoring programs are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52% less likely to skip school.

Children and youth gain positive role models with whom they can interact on a regular basis.

intergenerational programming

BENEFITS FOR THE COMMUNITY

Intergenerational programs bring together diverse groups and networks and help dispel innacurate and negative stereotypes.

Children, youth, and older adults are less alienated while the community recognizes that they can be contributing members of society.

Intergenerational community service programs can multiply human resources by engaging older adults and youth as volunteers in different types of opportunities and populations.

Intergenerational programs promote the transmission of cultural traditions and values from older to younger generations, helping to build a sense of personal and societal identity while encouraging tolerance.

Stay socially active: It may be good for mind as well as bod

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February 20, 2017 4:50 PM
By Gary Rotstein / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It’s often suggested that social isolation is one of the worst things that can happen to older adults — that they are more likely to live longer, healthier and happier by remaining active with a network of friends and activities.

A new report from the Global Council on Brain Health raises the additional possibility that staying socially engaged helps maintain thinking skills and slow cognitive decline. The council, an international group of researchers and health professionals sponsored by AARP, examined existing data to produce a report that contains various socialization recommendations for seniors.

“We know that loneliness and social isolation can increase physical health risks for old people,” said Sarah Lock, the council’s executive director. “The GCBH’s consensus that people who are socially engaged have a lower risk for cognitive decline shows us just how important social connections are to brain health.”

The report comes out at the same time as a new AARP consumer survey that found nearly four of 10 adults ages 40 or older say they lack social connections. The problem of social isolation and loneliness in older Americans is the theme of a national campaign that was launched in November by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging in collaboration with the AARP Foundation.

The council’s new report includes 12 recommendations for social engagement, some of which seem, well, rather obvious, but we’ll go ahead and list them anyway in case they’re helpful:

1. Focus on relationships or social activities you enjoy most.

2. If you have no one to turn to for social activities, use professional assistance like telephone hotlines, drop-in centers, conversations with clergy, etc.

3. If feeling lonely, seek out new connections or opportunities.

4. If barriers like mobility or safety problems make it difficult to get out to interact, ask for help from someone you know.

5. Keep in touch frequently with at least one trustworthy confidante you can count on.

6. Even if married, foster other relationships in order to have additional connections besides your spouse.

7. Maintain regular communication, whether in person or by phone or email, with a network of relatives, friends and neighbors.

8. Volunteer to help individuals or organizations that can use your companionship or abilities.

9. Maintain intergenerational connections so you’re in touch with younger people as well, whether grandchildren or students you mentor at a local school or program.

10. Try adding relationships or social activities by visiting new locations.

11. Be willing to expand activities through signing up for organized classes, clubs or programs.

12. Consider starting your own new group to fill a void in a type of social activity that’s lacking in your community.

The report defined and described its recommended social engagement as “interacting with others, feeling connected to other people, doing purposeful activities with others and/or maintaining meaningful social relationships.” If you’re not doing any of that, you might want to work on it — for your own good.

PROMOTING SENIOR WELLNESS: Improving Seniors’ Health through Art

SUBMITTED PHOTO
Summer watercolor class on The Hickman patio. Shown are front left, Myrtle Nash; back left, Esther Cope; back right Betty Jordan; and front right, Millie DiBussolo.
 Summer watercolor class on The Hickman patio. Shown are front left, Myrtle Nash; back left, Esther Cope; back right Betty Jordan; and front right, Millie DiBussolo. 

We know the arts are vital in the development of our youth, but recent studies have shown the importance art programming is having on seniors and the aging brain.

In a Today’s Geriatric Medicine article “Aging: What’s Art Got to do With It?,” Barbara Bagan, PhD, ATR-BC states that research has shown that older adults’ creativity and imaginations can flourish later in life, even when suffering from a chronic neurodegenerative disease. This is one of the reasons why most, if not all, senior living communities have implemented some form of an art program into their monthly activity calendars. The programs typically include visual and performance arts projects; allowing seniors to either work alone on drawings or in a group setting, such as singing in a choir.

The variety of programming affords seniors the chance to see what resonates with them and their physical capabilities. According to behavioral neurologist, Bruce Miller, MD, “while brains inevitably age, creative abilities do not necessarily deteriorate. Actually the aging brain responds well to art by allowing the brain’s two hemispheres to work more in tandem. This ability to use one’s creativity throughout a lifetime and the impact of crystallized intelligence gained from the years of accumulated knowledge and life experiences, help to cultivate the aging creative brain.”

Cultivating the aging, creative brain is crucial, since participating in the arts has shown to help reduce depression and isolation that seniors may feel after losing partners, family members, and friends. Engaging with the arts helps seniors to cope with their thoughts and feelings, providing them a creative outlet to express themselves.

“It’s not just the end-product that matters,” says Tia Santana, The Hickman’s resident artist. “For seniors, it’s also the process and at times just touching and manipulating the materials which can serve as a great stress reliever. However, I do enjoy seeing the smiles of accomplishment and pride on their faces when they have finished a piece that they’ll keep or give to a loved one.”

The arts also create opportunities for intergenerational interactions. Seniors can work on projects with their young family members and friends, enhancing and expanding their relationships. Also, outings to art events provide an option for older adults to experience an engaging situation with their loved ones.

Understanding that not all people are interested in producing art, senior living communities typically offer opportunities for residents to visit museums and attend live performances, which are also important for cognitive therapy of older adults. Dr. Bagan maintains, “making art or even viewing art causes the brain to continue to reshape, adapt, and restructure, thus expanding the potential to increase brain reserve capacity.”

Almost all visual and performing art centers offer senior discounts, allowing older adults to embrace the arts for enjoyment, while also potentially helping to improve cognitive abilities. For those on budgets, many visual art centers offer free admission on certain days of the week and some theaters offer free performances, usually during previews. Art is being created everywhere, so it doesn’t require a trip to the big city to appreciate fine art; many local performing groups and galleries offer high quality programming throughout the country.

Regardless if a senior is ready to show off their artistic talents or if they want to take in an exhibit, encouraging our older loved ones to explore their creative minds will enhance their quality of life. A person doesn’t have to be Frida Kahlo or Clive Barnes to partake in or enjoy the arts, they just need to be themselves and ready to enjoy the process and the result!

Promoting Senior Wellness is provided by The Hickman, a Quaker-affiliated licensed personal care home in West Chester. This column was written by Charles “Ebbie” Alfree III, Director of Advancement.

Our inspiration

No matter the frailty or dementia, everyone here has a purpose

Geneva Loveless, a client at the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, reads to 2-year-old Caleb Jackson and other children during a story time. The center regularly plans activities that pair adult clients with children.

Geneva Loveless, a client at the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, reads to 2-year-old Caleb Jackson and other children during a story time. The center regularly plans activities that pair adult clients with children. Credit: Michael Sears
Sister Edna Lonergan, president of St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care.

Sister Edna Lonergan, president of St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care.Michael Sears

By Crocker Stephenson of the Journal Sentinel

On a recent morning, a group of 2-year-olds joined hands and waddled, flock-like, from the Meerkat room on the east side of the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care to the reading room on the far west side of the building.

Waiting for them there were a couple adults on the other end of the intergenerational spectrum. It took a minute, but soon everyone settled in for some stories.

Paulette Smith, a volunteer, read “Frog Cops.” Spoiler alert. The last line in the book is: “The frog cops lock up the frog with spots.”

Then it was time for Geneva Loveless — age somewhere north of 70, she allowed — to read. And the fairy tale she read pretty much summed up what St. Ann’s is all about.

A grateful fairy rewards a helpful young girl by whispering into her ear the secret to happiness. And so the girl lives all her life in a state of joy. Not until she is very old and still very happy does she share the fairy’s secret:

“She told me that everyone, no matter how secure they seemed, no matter how old or young, rich or poor, had need of me.”

•••

That was the very secret that revealed itself to the center’s founder and president, Sister Edna Lonergan, in the early 1980s.

Lonergan was then the director of rehabilitation for her order, the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, at its health center in St. Francis.

She got the idea to open an adult day care in the basement of the center. It proved to be very popular.

“We had to hire more people,” she said. “They were mostly moms, single moms. So when the schools were closed, I lost all my staff. They had to be home taking care of the children. So I said, ‘Well, bring them in.'”

What happened next was as unexpected as it was perhaps inevitable.

“We took our babies over to our sisters who were the most frail — the most frail — and we put the babies in their arms. A couple of them started to cry. Not the babies. The adults. They looked at that baby in their arms and said, ‘I used to be a really good teacher.’ Or, ‘Can I really hold this baby? Can I rock this baby?'”

The babies had a gift — themselves — and a need to give it.

The adults had a gift — themselves — and a need to give it.

Each gave meaning to the other. They gave each other purpose.

“If I stress nothing else,” Lonergan said, “everybody needs a sense of purpose. Everybody. It doesn’t matter what degree of dementia they have. It doesn’t matter what age they are. What disability they have. Everyone needs a sense of purpose. Everybody.

•••

In 1999, the St. Ann Center opened its Stein Campus on Milwaukee’s south side. Last year, it opened its Bucyrus Campus, a $21 million facility on what Lonergan said was “two blocks of contaminated soil.”

The 2-year-olds from the Meerkat room are among 100 children, and fairy tale teller Geneva Loveless is among the 90 adults receiving day care services at the Bucyrus campus, which is still under construction.

A dental clinic specifically for people with disabilities will open this summer. Plans also include a state-of-the-art Alzheimer’s care program, an overnight respite care unit and a 500 seat band shell.

Lonergan figures it will take another $3.5 million to finish the place. Then, she says, perhaps she’ll build another.

“I’m a believer that if you put an idea out there, and God wants it to happen, it will hang together.”

Like when she was 3. She remembers standing on the steps of her church, south of Boston, in Braintree, Mass.

She doesn’t remember much else, except the steps and a seemingly very tall nun, dressed as nuns did in those days in a black habit.

“I was in awe,” she said.

“I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to be when I grow up.’ I didn’t know what she did or anything. But I was in awe, and I knew that’s what I would do.”