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Opinion: Stereotypes Contribute to Isolation and Illness for Many Seniors

OpinionOpinion: Stereotypes Contribute to Isolation and Illness for Many Seniors

Seniors at Felicita Vida,Seniors in an art class at Felicita Vida in Escondido.

COVID-19 lockdowns may be in the rear-view mirror, but many older San Diegans are still experiencing isolation and loneliness, posing a health risk as deadly as smoking or obesity.

Roughly one in three seniors live alone. And our senior population is growing fast. Between 2010 and 2060, the number of San Diego residents 85 and older will increase 427%, making isolation and its health consequences — heart disease, depression, and cognitive decline — a serious and growing public health issue too.

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While some seniors living on their own may have a support network to lean on, many, for a wide variety of reasons, are not so fortunate. A University of Michigan study found last year that more than half of people aged 50 through 80 felt isolated. In my profession, senior living, this is a heartbreaking statistic.

Loneliness can creep into our lives in many ways. Things like the death of a spouse, separation from family and friends, or a lack of mobility can all increase isolation and complicate existing health conditions.

“When seniors start going through the transitions in life — aging, retirement, health issues — their social circles shrink, and they can lose their sense of purpose,” said Dr. Deena Stacer, a Rancho Bernado psychologist and realtor.

Stacer, who has worked with hundreds of seniors transitioning from their homes into senior living communities, said seniors who engage in meaningful, productive activities and maintain strong social bonds tend to live longer, be more fulfilled and have a greater sense of motivation. She added that families need to better understand the health risks of loneliness and overcome stereotypes about senior living communities.

“Being part of a community helps them get back into a routine, meet new friends and stay active. Unless pushed into a routine to wake up, get dressed and really live, someone can lose their value and that’s when they can give up,” she said.

To help families and their older loved ones better understand the benefits of senior living, our community, Felicita Vida in Escondido, is supporting a multi-state awareness campaign highlighting the meaningful social connections, lifelong learning opportunities and dynamic lifestyles that senior living can provide.

Some of our own wonderful residents also participated as extras in a video for the campaign. They are more than happy to show why social connections like the ones they experience at Felicita Vida are vital to a long and happy life.

We’re planning a little Oscar night-style celebration for our residents who helped, and I can’t wait for all of us to get together for that.

Felicita Vida is like many other assisted living and memory care communities across the country. We encourage our residents to lead active social lives and enjoy their choice of daily social events, classes, outings, and activities that drive meaningful interactions or just peace and quiet.

I encourage families to check out the Find Your Care Community program at findyourcarecommunity.com to see through the stereotypes, celebrate the joys of senior living and find the help they need to navigate their personal circumstances.

Stacer points out that “a senior living community can help residents feel like they have a reason to get up and get going while giving them an opportunity to have beneficial social connections and physical and emotional support.”

During the pandemic, when senior living communities had to shut their doors to outside visitors to keep them safe, the social interactions residents had with families through technology, staff and other residents within the community fulfilled a vital need to stay connected.

Stacer said stereotypes depicting senior living as a mundane stage of life defined by loneliness, inactivity, and dependency, have led to a rise in seniors aging at home longer than they should.

“Some families mistakenly think of senior living communities as places where their loved one’s quality of life will suffer, and it’s important we change this mindset,” said Stacer.

Kim Malaspina is the executive director at Felicita Vida, an assisted living and memory care community in Escondido. See seniorlifestyle.com/felicita-vida for more information.

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