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senior woman sits alone in living room and looks sad
Dr. John T. Cacioppo

With deep sadness, we acknowledge the passing of Dr. John T. Cacioppo, the pioneering psychologist whose research merged psychology and biology into a brand-new field of study: social neuroscience.

The Heart of the Matter

Love may be in the air on Valentine’s Day, but just how you feel about the holiday can depend on your age and whether you’re in a relationship.

Volunteering with AARP Foundation - Meal Pack Challenge - Memphis, TN

Here’s a pop quiz: What’s a great way to prevent isolation while also contributing to your community? If you said, you’re right. Volunteering has physical and mental health benefits. It also increases social connections, boosts self-confidence, reduces stress levels and decreases the risk of depression. In helping others, we help ourselves.

After her divorce, Cynthia moved to the big city. Her first home there was a studio apartment where she lived alone. She says it was “so depressing, so isolating, so lonely. I came from a really active life in which I raised two children, had pets and ran a business. Living by myself was so quiet. It became harder and harder to go out and do stuff. The loneliness fed on itself. I started to get really hard on myself, really down. I actually started eating frozen dinners. I’d never done that before. It’s just hard to cook for one person.”

I began to think about aging alone after caring for my parents. My mother struggled with heart problems, while my father lived with Alzheimer’s disease. Watching their decline was heartbreaking. It was close to one year after dad’s passing when the question hit me: “Who will care for me?”

There’s no shortage of opinions these days about social networks and the decline of in-person social connections. Headlines like “Is Technology Making People Less Sociable?” and “Is the Internet Bad for Society and Relationships?” point to the internet, and technology in general, as a contributing cause of this downturn.

Can something as simple as singing in a community choir really affect the well-being of older adults? A growing body of research shows it can.

Twenty years ago, former first lady Rosalynn Carter gave a speech in which she said, “There are only four kinds of people in this world: Those who have been caregivers; those who currently are caregivers; those who will be caregivers; and those who will need caregivers.” She was right: We all give and receive care at varying times in our lives. We all occasionally need to lean on a loved one. And we all need to recognize that we can’t serve others unless we first care for ourselves.

The new year is a time to reflect and set goals. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I have decided to choose one word to live by in 2017 — a word that will inform my thinking both personally and professionally and serve as my mantra for the year. “Connect.”