“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” —Mother Teresa
No matter our age, we can all agree that one of life’s goals is to keep loneliness at bay. Yes, we are ultimately alone when we enter and leave this world, and some would argue we are alone in between, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are lonely. I’m definitely someone who likes my own space, yet loneliness rarely casts its shadow. My work, my family, my hobbies and pastimes – all serve to keep me well engaged and purposeful in day-to-day living.
As we get older, however, isolation and loneliness can creep in. We experience many changes, both external (for example, retirement, an empty nest, widowhood) and internal (health conditions, disabilities), that can lead to our becoming disconnected from the people and activities that were important to us. Hobbies may fall by the wayside, and relationships may founder. Unfortunately, study after study shows that social isolation in older adults can increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, dementia and falls. Not to mention that death tends to come sooner.
Looked at another (and more positive) way, other studies consistently report that regular social interaction is a common denominator among those who live to 100 and beyond. Again, I emphasize that the “interaction” doesn’t necessarily mean interacting with other people – if you’re someone like me, it can mean learning a new skill, or going on your own to the latest exhibit at the museum. We are connected to the world in whatever way works for us as individuals.
Yet how do we overcome limitations that may be beyond our control, such as vision or hearing loss, reduced mobility or memory challenges?
Technology can be an important part of the solution. At AGE-WELL, we’re neck-deep in the development of exciting technologies that can transform lives and reduce social isolation. And I’m not talking about the latest “toy” that only techno-geeks can use. I’m talking about things like voice-activation technology, which removes the need for a keyboard or computer mouse. Or digital pen-and-paper communication software that converts handwritten content into an electronic file for emailing.
Then there are the numerous projects that use artificial intelligence, such as an AGE-WELL-supported app for older adults living in retirement residences that recommends events and activities, and can connect them to others with similar interests. There are digital games that are played with grandchildren thousands of kilometres away, and digital storytelling workshops that capture personal memoirs.
The older we get, the more we realize that life is what we make it. Fortunately, technology can help us continue to “make it” despite the challenges that may come with age. We can stay connected with whatever makes life meaningful, rewarding and fun.