Life doesn’t have to be “busy” to be full. The concept of “social capital” is one which is increasingly being recognized as a necessary component of a healthy life, especially as one ages. What is “social capital?” It is the network of relationships we have in our lives which build over time and allow us to contribute to a “safety net” of sorts with and for people around us. It is having a ready friend to watch your dog while you’re out of town. It is a daughter who calls to check on you; a son picks up your groceries when there is ice on the ground. It is the backgammon group and the church choir; it is the neighbor who notices that the porch light has stayed on at your home for two days and has an extra key to check on you.
Unfortunately, the bonds that are so easy to build in youth and while raising a family begin to diminish as we age. Our peers retire to different parts of the country, children move away, lives get busy, friends pass away. We wake up one day and our relationship “bank account” is empty. Our silent partner is loneliness, and the world seems to move along while we have become invisible.
What is the answer? There is no simple solution. The harsh truth is that people are busy, lives do move on, and those we have been close with may no longer be in our lives. We have to rebuild. Purposefully and with determination.
Lisa Stockdale, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Capital Health Care Network (CHCN) the first (and often hardest) step is admitting that we are lonely. “We don’t value the elderly the way other cultures do” says Lisa. “We value independence.” We even have a negative term for that inter-generational care. Seniors say they don’t want to be a “burden” to their adult children. Complicating the equation, studies show that adult children view their parents as “able” and “independent” for months, even years after others notice decline. Why? We carry the mental picture of a younger Mom or virile Dad and are slow to acquiesce to our parent’s limitations because of aging. And, Mom and Dad tend to be the last to admit they need the care.
So, what to do?
An idea exhibiting growing interest in Europe is the development of social exchanges. It expands beyond the family to peers. Built on the belief that everyone has something to give (Yes! You do!) the exchanges are made of a group of people who offer their talents or knowledge in exchange for someone who can help with their needs. These kinds of groups offer services such as organizing and attending social events, gardening work/advice, donating time to charitable causes, shopping , giving rides, haircuts, or massages, computer repair, or minor home or car repairs. Interestingly, say organizers, the value is not just in the service, but the relationship. A sense of well-being is gained through being useful (no longer invisible) and knowing that someone is there to help (no longer lonely.)
Lisa says in the absence of family close by or easy mobility, retirement communities are a good source of this connection. “The residents of our communities benefit from being engaged,” she says. “The things that you used to go to come to you.” Religious services, concerts, art activities, entertainment are all on site – as are the new friends you met while attending these events.
Next week we will talk about social isolation. I will provide a simple test which answers the question: am I socially isolated?
This blog is written by Kathy Chiero. Kathy is the Team Lead for The Kathy Chiero Group of Keller Williams Greater Columbus Realtors. Thinking of Buying or Selling? Find us www.OurOhioHome.com