Age-Friendly Communities: The Value of Social Participation
When the World Health Organization (WHO) established its Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities in 2010, it recognized eight domains of livability—community features that impact the well-being of older adults. One of those domains is social participation—leisure, social, cultural and/or spiritual activities that connect individuals and prevent isolation.
Social activity has been found to increase mobility, positive outlook, and the desire to take better care of oneself. In turn, these contribute to good health, longevity, and quality of life. In short, if you want to age well, “keep moving and stay connected”—a phrase that Aging and Disability Services uses frequently.
I know a lot of people who are busier in retirement than they ever were during their working years. Others are moderately involved in social activities. But others fall into isolation later in life. This can be very risky.
Social isolation can occur when someone lives in a remote area but can also occur when someone feels like they are different than others due to low self-worth, depression, or emotional loss (e.g., the loss of a spouse). It’s not unhealthy to be alone but extended isolation becomes self-perpetuating—a spiral of inactivity, loneliness, and depression. Some studies have found that loneliness actually hurts our immune systems.
The WHO Checklist of Essential Features of Age-friendly Cities offers these suggestions for social participation:
- Venues for events and activities are conveniently located, accessible, well-lit and easily reached by public transport.
- Events are held at times convenient for older people.
- Activities and events can be attended alone or with a companion.
- Activities and attractions are affordable, with no hidden or additional participation costs.
- Good information about activities and events is provided, including details about accessibility of facilities and transportation options for older people.
- A wide variety of activities is offered to appeal to a diverse population of older people.
- Gatherings including older people are held in various local community spots, such as recreation centers, schools, libraries, community centers, and parks.
- There is consistent outreach to include people at risk of social isolation.
In King County, we have many accessible and affordable social and recreation options for all ages, including dozens of lifelong learning and arts programs. For ideas, click here. Other community resources include senior activity centers, places of worship, and volunteer programs like those listed on Aging and Disability Services’ Age-Friendly Communities webpage.
So, keep moving and stay connected. Your life may depend on it!
Contributor David Baker is chair of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, which publishes AgeWise King County. He welcomes input from readers via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.
This article originally appeared in AgeWise King County (April 2017).