Often I hear from my Boomer friends that they encountered an issue of their retirement that they hadn’t planned.
That issue is the frequent social isolation of Seniors in retirement. Sometimes Boomers are still carrying the responsibility for their own Senior parents. With both generational groups living longer these days, there are new considerations that Boomers will want to include in their retirement planning.
If a retiree is aged 70 or younger, the odds are greater than ever that they could still have at least one living parent. In many cases a retiree has planned to move away from their primary home location after they retire … to a vacation home, to a different country, to a different climate, to a town of a different size. After all, we know that retirement is one of our last times to explore interests that were sidelined during our working years. But. What about that elderly parent who might be left behind or forced to relocate too?
A factor for both Boomers and their parents is that a larger percentage of retirees report being lonely these days.
Recently the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging joined with the AARP Foundation to initiate a campaign to raise awareness about this growing problem — social isolation and loneliness among older Americans. Here is a link to the details about the AARP campaign against social awareness. Recent AARP estimates suggest that up to 40,000,000 American Seniors are frequently lonely. Loneliness has been associated with certain health problems and a hastening of conditions such as memory loss.
Both Boomers and their parents find that it is much more difficult to remain socially connected as they age. This is amplified by relocation to a different town or region where it may be hard to find ways to meet other people and start over again with friendships.
Charlottesville’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service researches many aspects of demographics both locally and nationally. They estimate that more than 20 percent of Seniors in the Greater Charlottesville region live alone, and that percentage will be growing.
As we age, many people become overwhelmed with new situations. Moving makes it that much harder. Seniors must locate new doctors and financial institutions, new stores and new streets to learn, and this may lead to their decision to simply stay home alone more. If the retiree develops medical problems, hearing limitations, social anxiety or memory loss, they are more apt to isolate themselves by default. This isolation problem can become the responsibility of a Boomer who has a retired parent as well. Medical emergencies or chronic health conditions can exacerbate the isolation too.
Most studies have shown that humans need meaningful ongoing relationships with other people. We need to make sure that we remain connected socially and that we help our elderly relatives to remain connected too. As I write this it is the holiday season, and this is a great time to take advantage of likely family gatherings to begin a dialogue about how retirement planning will take into account all of the generational needs of the family.
In Charlottesville, the Jefferson Area Board of Aging (JABA) offers many services that can help Seniors in many ways. JABA offers programs and services for the elderly, for caregivers of the elderly, for connections to medical services, and JABA also sponsors social programs to encourage interactions among the elderly.
So while it is exciting to plan for our own retirement days, it also pays for a pre-tiree to consider his/her own possible social challenges in relocation, as well as any likelihood that the pre-tiree could also have the responsibility of a parent who may face isolation as well. As we age we all know that there will be losses…. hearing, vision, independence, physical mobility, friendships, … and we need to plan ahead to assure that social isolation doesn’t add to those losses.