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Let's face it: We're getting older. Very soon one in four residents will be over the age of 60 here in Douglas County. And for the first time in human history, there will be more older adults than young children in the global population. Adults aged 65 and over will begin to outnumber children under the age of 5, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau.
What does it mean to be a senior in 2018? How do you navigate the many channels of aging, and how do you age successfully? When you ask, most older adults want to stay independent for as long as possible, remain in their homes, maintain social connections and enjoy the quality of life they've always had. New data suggests that for most seniors, quality of life is at the top of that list. But what about when that quality of life is challenged — maintaining independence can sometimes be difficult even in the healthiest of seniors.
Nationally, 6 million adults age 65 and older have a disability that prevents them from leaving their homes without help, and 51 percent of people age 75 and older live alone. Older adults who no longer drive can quickly become isolated. They make fewer trips to their doctors and the grocery store and can lose their social connections. Isolated seniors are at a higher risk of health issues, elder abuse, fraud and scams, according to the AARP Foundation.
A recent study on health compared social isolation to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Other data links loneliness to a bigger predictor of mortality than obesity or heart disease. Top risk factors for isolation include lack of accessible and affordable transportation (no longer driving), health issues such as untreated hearing loss, dementia, lack of mobility and frailty, which interfere with social connectedness. Life transitions, such as retirement, becoming a caregiver or losing a spouse or friends also contribute, as well as living in a rural area.
As we age, living in our own homes can become more of a challenge, especially when health conditions prevent you from keeping up with yard work and maintenance. Even changing out a light bulb or smoke alarm batteries can be daunting when it involves a ladder and you've got mobility issues. HOAs want snow cleared from the sidewalk, and you're recovering from knee replacement surgery. But even with these challenges, the overwhelming majority of seniors say they wish to “age in place.” And living in your own home still might be the best option if you have some help.
What helps many seniors in our county is a connection to an aging resource center; a place to get and give information regarding the issues seniors are facing today and receiving help in navigating those issues. Neighbor Network, the county's only nonprofit aging resource center, is a place to get information on services, links to providers and connections to resources, and to receive direct services, such as transportation, home maintenance and companionship. The organization receives hundreds of calls each week and has strong partnerships with aging professionals in the region. Just knowing there is a place to reach out to has made a significant impact on people's confidence level to remain in their homes and remain independent. Services help fill in the gaps many seniors are facing, and it's a peace of mind to know you have an available resource that specializes in senior services.
Neighbor Network is relocating its offices in February to accommodate the growing volume of requests; you may still call to receive information, but now you can also stop into the new office at 104 Fourth St. in Castle Rock to speak to a specialist face to face.
Karie Erickson is the executive director of Neighbor Network. For additional information, or to access resources or services, please call 303-814-4300 or visit www.dcNeighborNetwork.org. This column is hosted by the Seniors' Council of Douglas County. Please join us for our next meeting on March 1 at Eastridge Recreation Center, 9568 South University Blvd, Highlands Ranch. Our presentation and community conversation will begin at 10:15 a.m. This month's topic is the evolution of Neighbor Network and our speaker is Karie Erickson. For more information, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSenionrLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.
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