We are hearing the words isolation and quarantine frequently because of COVID 19 that has shut down most of the world. Some people are adapting amazingly at entertaining themselves as we isolate ourselves. Have you heard the myriad of classic songs that have been rewritten with clever Coronavirus lyrics? Some people are creating very funny, beautiful, or thoughtful memes. Some of us are not that creative but now have ridiculously clean homes. Many people are reporting feeling anxiety, depression, and a lack of control over their lives. Experts are comparing our isolation to those who have been in prison and astronauts who are completely alone for long periods of time. This week I called to check in with a 94-year-old relative who emotionally explained to me why she didn’t get a birthday card out on time, “Can you imagine not being able to go out when you want to? I used to work. I came and went as I pleased. I can’t do any of that anymore.” I would officially like to add to the list of people that have experienced true isolation: Inmates, astronauts, AND seniors. This is nothing new to them. My hope is Silver Station can take at least some seniors off the list of the truly isolated and offer them the resources to help them not be alone, to get them what they need, and to allow them to age their best way possible.
I am not one to ignore the elephant in the room… COVID-19 is that nasty virus that has shut down everything fun across the globe. This virus has changed everyone’s lives from quarantine to, sadly, losing a loved one. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seniors are one of the more susceptible populations to get the virus. Let’s talk about why… As we age, we get slower. Lets be clear, we are no less capable, powerful, and dynamic, but we do get slower. Our thinking gets a little slower; our movement gets a little slower; and our immune system get a little slower. We just can’t fight illnesses and infections like we used to, just like most of us can’t so anything as fast as we used to. Luckily, most of us don’t really want to do things as fast as we used to. I don’t feel the need to drive as fast as I used to but I don’t meet as many very nice police officers as I used to either. There is a yin and yang to everything, really, but I digress. Another reason seniors are more at risk is an underlying condition we may have, most of us have at least one, that make fighting the virus even more difficult. Lastly, our lungs may be damaged from smoking, living with a smoker, or pollution we have all lived around longer than younger folks. The older we are, the more these issues apply. This is why we can’t see our loved ones in long term living facilities and rehabs and why we need to be very careful not to spread the virus to older people. Everyone please stay healthy and safe and let’s look out for one another.
People often ask me what Silver Station is and my answer is always, it is a social club for people 55 and older and I include how important socialization is as we age. One of the most near and dear reasons why Silver Station is so important is it can help people feel a sense of purpose. What does that mean, a sense of purpose, and how does Silver Station accomplish that? Sadly, Merriam Webster doesn’t give a definition for ‘sense of purpose’. It does define purpose as “something that one hopes or intends to accomplish” and sense as “to have a clear idea of”. If we put those together, we get a sense of purpose is: A clear idea of something one hopes to accomplish. My definition of a sense of purpose: A reason to get up in the morning. If someone doesn’t have a reason to get up in the morning, the day can very well be lost. There are many reasons we get up in the morning: work, children, pets, a hobby, a loved one etc. As we age, many of those reasons are gone. I want Silver Station to give people a reason to get up in the morning, a sense of purpose, whether it is to meet friends for coffee each morning or to finish that game of chess or for a class. Helping people feel a sense of purpose is my sense of purpose. Silver Station can give us all a reason to get up in the morning.
Research has shown isolation and loneliness are associated with increased sympathetic nervous system activity. According to MedicineNet, sympathetic nervous system is “a part of the nervous system that serves to accelerate the heart rate, constrict blood vessels, and raise blood pressure. The sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system constitute the autonomic nervous system”. M’ok. What we are really talking about is loneliness and isolation causes our bodies to go into the fight or flight response as if we are being chased by a lion on the Serengeti or when you see that copperhead snake that keeps slithering into your yard and scares the snot out of you when all you are trying to do is get to your car… I digress. That feeling, of either running away or ready to kill the copperhead, is our fight or flight response, or our sympathetic nervous system, at work. What happens? We see that copperhead and our heart races, we get a quick boost of energy, we start breathing faster, among other biological responses, from the quick release of hormones. All of that is normal and absolutely necessary. After the copperhead goes back to his own house and all is right with the world, our parasympathetic nervous system calms our bodies back down. Those hormones we released when we saw the copperhead, if elevated for too long, as with isolation and loneliness, will damage blood vessels, increase blood pressure, and cause a build up of fat. Unfortunately, our brains also get stressed out from the consistent release of these hormones and this can create anxiety and depression. This is one of the reasons staying active and social is vital to our health. Silver Station is a great way to stop our bodies and brains from reacting as if a copperhead is constantly visiting us.
Research has shown people who are isolated have a higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Let’s talk about dementia and Alzheimer’s for a minute. Occasionally, I hear those two terms used interchangeably and they really shouldn’t be. Let’s start with my favorite part: Definitions! According to good ol’ Merriam-Webster:
Dementia is usually a progressive condition marked by the development of memory impairment, difficulty understanding speech and/or speaking, and the inability to plan or initiate complex behaviors.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disease “that results in progressive memory loss, impaired thinking, disorientation, and changes in personality and mood.”
By these definitions, dementia is the symptom and Alzheimer’s is the disease. Just like not all cookies are chocolate chip cookies and not all cars are Ferraris. I realize for those caring for or living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you know the difference and the horrors of each and I am not making light of either with my examples but merely trying to explain the differences.
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia but not the only culprit. Other common causes of dementia include Vascular Dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, and Frontotemporal Dementia which affects personality and speech but not memory. There are many other causes of dementia that are not as common as those mentioned.
What we are talking about are the affects of isolation on the brain. Socialization, belonging, and support may not prevent these horrible diseases but they can definitely decrease the risks.
For more information, please go to the experts at the Alzheimer’s Association at www.Alz.org or if you are in the Bluffton/Hilton Head area, Memory Matters on the Island is an amazing resource and program.
We are talking about cognitive decline. As we age, our brains change. It’s a fact of life. It happens to everyone. Our brain slows down and there is a difference in our ability to remember things from when we were younger to now. This is the definition of cognitive decline, which is completely different than cognitive impairment. There is a study that explains this cognitive decline as the brain having a finite amount of space in which to fill and our brains just get pickier about the information it chooses to retain. I like that one. I feel as if there are things I forget but it isn’t because I didn’t remember, it’s because I just didn’t care enough to clutter my finite amount of brain space. Solid thinking, Brain! On the flip side, our knowledge and verbal skills remain strong and some, like myself, would argue get stronger with age. Experiences build upon our knowledge base and, hence my argument, gives us more knowledge. Older people have a lot of knowledge. Ask them! They will tell you! If we build on our discussion on socializing and being connected, research shows older people who socialize have increased cognitive brain function, reduce their risk of dementia, and reduce the rate of cognitive decline. All good news for those that engage in social activities, have good friends, and go to Silver Station! Absolutely shameless, I fully admit. But true, nonetheless.
When I talk about Silver Station to literally anyone who is willing listen to me, and some who probably aren’t really willing but are too polite to stop me, I talk a lot about loneliness and socialization and how vital it is to have a place for people to meet, socialize, to be engaged and supported, especially as we age. I generally then go on and on about how Bluffton is missing that vital piece of community and explain the true and real dangers, as well as inflictions, that can arise without that piece. To explain how vital this piece is, lets start by defining, according to Webster, what we are talking about:
Loneliness is being without company or cut off from others.
Socialization is social interaction with others.
Both are simple enough. What happens to our bodies and spirit during loneliness, and in the absence of socialization, is not as simple.
In articles to follow, I will try to simplify exactly what happens in both circumstances and how Silver Station can help. I will explain exactly what we are talking about.