Social Isolation and Seniors

Along with all the work I have done for many years as a disability advocate, another hat I wear is as president of the Southwestern PA Partnership on Aging (SWPPA).  Our group is an all volunteer led, nonprofit organization, that is the premiere advocacy group on aging and senior issues.  In this role I am always looking to learn more about aging issues, and how SWPPA can address the big issues of the day.

This passion is embodied by our current "Age Friendly Community" initiative which uses the World Health Organization's (WHO) 8 key domains to analyze a communities openness and willingness to include and welcome seniors.  One of the 8 benchmarks is "Respect and Inclusion,"which given my academic interest in social capital, is really important to me.

This gets me to the recent report, "Older Americans, 2016" that I had a chance to review recently, and suggests a larger challenge of social isolation of elders than we might have previously thought.  The report shows some interesting trends that suggest a real isolation of elders, and especially older women.  Consider these findings:

* At every age older men are far more likely to be married than older women

* About three-quarters of men, ages 65-74, are married, compared to 58% of same aged women

* The proportion of men who are married at 75-84 doesn't decline, but for women, drops to 42%

* Men are much more likely to remarry than women

* Among people over 75, 23% of men live alone, with women it is twice as high.

* 8% of married elders are poor, with unmarried men it is 20% and for unmarried women, 27%

This report and data suggest that older persons are at greater risk of isolation and we know that isolation is a terrible thing.  Robert Putnam of Harvard University suggested in his 2000 book, "Bowling Alone," that as many Americans die annually from social isolation, as from all smoke related disease and illnesses.  This is a sobering statistic that should push us all to look at ways and means to keep all people, but especially those vulnerable from age and disability, as socially connected as possible.  Respect and Inclusion must be up top on our list.