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nobody's perfect | Isolation can come with physical challenges

Written by Sister Karen Zielinski, OSF. Posted in August

Iwanted to go, and I didn’t want to go.

My friend Sharon was celebrating a significant birthday—a “doughnut” birthday, one with a “0” at the end of the number. The gathering of friends was at Sharon’s home on a Friday after work. It had been pouring rain all day, and it still was raining. A miserable day, indeed.

I had made my tuna mousse appetizer for the group and had my birthday card and little present all ready. But the rain was doing something inside my head that told me, “You have a chronic disease, you have to drive there, arrive a little early because you need to put up your portable ramp to enter the house.” I knew I also had to stay a little later than the group because I needed to negotiate my electric cart down the ramp after most of the people left. I needed more room.

The party was originally going to be outside, and that would be no problem for me to get around on my electric cart. Because of the heavy rain from the past few days and current rain, it was moved inside the house. I keep two lightweight aluminum ramps in the back of my van. Depending on how I enter a house, either from the garage, laundry room, or outside steps, I choose either my threshold ramp (smaller height) or my ramp that can go over three feet of elevation.

I was telling myself that Sharon would understand if I did not come to her party, that I could just drop off my tuna mousse and present and that it would be perfectly understandable if I stayed home.

Sometimes we just don’t want to leave our house. In messy, rainy weather, it’s hard for us to get around—so why should we go out? Conventional wisdom would say we should stay home. But staying active is good for our health.

Staying at home might be a necessity, depending on one’s physical limitations, but for many people, not getting out and about can have a serious affect on their physical and mental health. For example, a 2006 University of Chicago study indicated that emotional isolation is linked to elevated blood pressure, especially in seniors. Researchers found that lonely seniors have blood pressure readings up to 30 points higher than their socially connected peers, regardless of race, sex, or other health factors.

The importance of social relationships

Having a personal network is an important aspect of anyone’s daily life. People who are engaged in a network of personal relationships experience a higher level of well-being than those who are socially isolated, and they tend to be healthier.

The positive relationship between someone’s personal network and their health and well-being is explained in different ways. According to Dr. Anja Machielse, “Social interaction helps a person’s identity and self respect, and defines their social identity. Networking also helps people with social integration and gives a feeling of security.”

Causes of social isolation

The 2000 census showed that the number of seniors (and those with chronic health problems) who live alone climbed to 9.7 million, and that number seems to be growing, too. Persons living alone might be prone to isolate themselves socially for a variety of reasons:

  • Death of their spouse, relatives, and friends
  • Retirement
  • Illness
  • Decreased physical mobility
  • Loss of the ability to drive
  • Intentional reductions in their social networks to include only those who the person feels close to.

The good news is, there are many ways that those living alone, even with greatly curtailed mobility, can prevent and combat loneliness. Some proven methods include:

Volunteering

Studies show that volunteers live longer, have higher functional ability, and have lower rates of depression and heart disease, according to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Joining social and support groups

Social interaction with people who have similar interests, or face similar challenges, not only combats loneliness but can also be a way to build new friendships. (Some support groups exist for various health challenges: Mended Hearts, Cancer Survivor’s, etc.)

Connecting to others on the Internet

Using the Internet can help people who face mobility challenges connect with others who have similar interests through a variety of resources and websites.

Learning something new

Learning a new skill requires you to interact with an instructor and fellow students. Choosing to take a cooking course or learning how to use a computer can enhance your social skills and life. Most communities have courses at the public library, local colleges or community centers, senior centers, etc.

You might not learn how to make a wonderful Italian pasta or pen the “Great American Novel” in your class, but you will have fun and meet new people in the process. And that’s good for your health!

I did go to Sharon’s party, and it was so good to mingle with people, eat some great food, and just enjoy life socially. I was reminded by this rainy-day birthday party of the importance of staying socially involved, even when getting out and about takes a bit more planning and energy with my mobility issues.

Contact me for tips on how to get around with a disability. I also can share a great tuna mousse recipe!❦

Gohio