From May to November, I have to look out for him in the wheelchair during my 5:15 am drive to the YMCA. In the semi-darkness I usually spot him guiding his chair on the far side of the crest of a hill making a beeline for the Irving station.
For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out the allure of the gas station. But one morning, he was there, purchasing his cup of coffee, and saying a few words to the staff at the cash register. From that moment on, I nicknamed him “Morning Joe.”
I’ve thought a lot about what compelled “Joe” to get dressed and head out in his chair, in the dark, to the Irving for that cup of coffee. It isn’t the quality of the brew. But I suspect it’s the anticipation of the staff “hellos” and just connecting with some familiar faces that make his early morning pilgrimage so compelling.
Social isolation, particularly among Maine’s increasingly aging residents, is a significant issue. And it’s one that has real health consequences. Older adults (over age 45) who are socially isolated or lonely are more likely to experience poor health and suffer from depression, anxiety, mood disorders, as well as alcohol and substance abuse.1
Since 2013, MeHAF has supported an initiative called “Thriving in Place” (TiP) which is designed to support community-based, cross-sector collaboration among health care, social services, community supports and volunteer networks to improve and enhance services for adults with chronic health conditions. Rather than developing new programs, TiP grants help communities identify and coordinate existing resources that can assist people so they remain independent and thriving in their homes and communities.
The first activity TiP grantees pursued was getting input from community members about what factors made it hard to keep them thriving and in reasonable health at home. We thought better access to health care services would be the #1 issue. But we were wrong.
A new report, Reducing Social Isolation in Maine: A Thriving in Place Experience , presents what our TiP grantees learned from these community conversations. Contrary to our assumptions, most people had adequate access to health care providers. But social isolation and lack of simple community supports are the key factors that make it most challenging to thrive at home.
As Maine and other states think about developing age-friendly communities, there are many opportunities to combat social isolation and to connect neighbors and friends. The report shares some successful strategies, but there are many others that communities are trying as well.
Learn more from this new report, and let us know what’s working in your community to help folks tap into their “Morning Joe.”
1 Anderson, G. (September 2010). Loneliness among Older Adults: A National Study of Adults 45+. Washington, DC: American Association of Retired Persons.
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