Maine needs more senior housing, and not just because older Mainers require safe, cost-effective buildings. Like everyone else, seniors need community, too, and with one-third of Americans older than 65 — and half of those over 85 — living alone, and often in seclusion to one degree or another, that community is becoming harder to find.

Allowing seniors to live near others in similar circumstances is one way to combat that isolation, but there are others too. All of these efforts need our attention, as it is becoming clear that isolation is slowly killing some seniors, and making them sick and miserable while they are still here.

Loneliness is bad for anyone, but particularly seniors, who may see family move away and friends and spouses die, winnowing their support network and disrupting the routines and rituals that provide a full life.

And not only do the health and mobility issues associated with age make isolation more likely, they are actually exacerbated by the loneliness itself.

There is an intense physiological response to being alone for extended periods of time. Loneliness has been shown to speed up cognitive decline in seniors, disrupt sleep and compromise the immune system. One study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by around 30 percent.

Building senior housing that puts seniors near each other and allows them to experience the wider community through dedicated programs and public transportation can help ease loneliness and keep those seniors connected to the world around them.


There are other, smaller ways to combat isolation too, and they all need our support.

The various Agencies on Aging throughout Maine offer various programs to help keep seniors engaged.

Meals on Wheels, for instance, makes sure seniors get at least one hot meal and one visitor a day. Phone Pals provides a daily wellness check for seniors living alone.

Vet to Vet connects veterans to each other and other veterans services programs. The Active Agers program gets people up and outside, enjoying the Maine outdoors together while getting valuable physical exercise.

There are also innovative programs popping up elsewhere that could find a home in Maine.

Take for instance linkAges, started by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in the San Francisco area. It allows members to post something they need — a ride, partners for card games, cooking lessons. Others who are able then fill those requests, “banking” hours for when they need something done themselves.

It is a way for someone to both receive and give back, solving loneliness without the stigma of declaring how lonely one feels. And it is a way to combat the loss of community many feel in the U.S.

“In America, you almost ned an excuse for knocking on a neighbor’s door,” the program’s founder told the New York Times. “We want to break down those barriers.”

We should all want to break down those barriers, so that life in all its phases is healthy and fulfilling.

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