Jerri is retired and facing a new chapter in her life. With the loss of her spouse and with her adult children spreading out across the country, she is left to figure out what comes next.
Like many Baby Boomers, Jerri is at risk of declining health due to isolation. The number of those aging solo is expected to grow to one in four of the 76 million Baby Boomers out there. This means that there could be as many as 19 million seniors facing the physical, mental and emotional health risks associated with isolation.
A study conducted by Bryan James at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago examined how social activity affected cognitive decline. James periodically tested the cognitive functioning of 1,100 seniors without dementia over a 12-year period. The rate of cognitive decline was 70 percent less among seniors with frequent social contact than among those with low social activity.
Other research has found similar links between social activity and health issues. For example, one study concluded that prolonged loneliness can equal the health risks of smoking 15 cigarettes a day; in another, 26 percent of people studied had an increased risk of death due to loneliness. These findings present a challenge to our community and the YMCA of Greater Des Moines is meeting this challenge through programs and services that help our Active Older Adult community (AOA) stay healthy both physically and mentally.
Seniors like Jerri have choices ranging from getting involved in group exercise classes to taking field trips. One group exercise participant, Chery S., said, “Besides feeling better, I come because of the friendships I have made. If you don’t have your people…you don’t go!” Group exercise participants don’t just work out together, they also get together for treat days, celebrate special occasions and even take day trips at some branches.
Volunteerism is also an excellent way to socially engage seniors. At Y branch locations you can find seniors reading to children in Learn and Play or helping younger members with their homework. There are also opportunities to volunteer at the Welcome Center to meet and greet our members as they scan into our buildings…not to mention the countless opportunities to help out with our sports teams and special events such as an indoor triathlon or 5k. You don’t have to run the 5k to hand out packets!
If you are interested in volunteering, please contact your local branch Welcome Center or check out our website at www.dmymca.org. Last, but definitely not least, you can work for the YMCA. Maybe one day in Learn and Play, on the lifeguard stand at the pool, or assisting members in our wellness center creates the funds to fill your social bank.
Whatever activity you choose, the YMCA is here to help. As Jerri says, “You can’t be lonely and be a healthy person!”