What makes for good aging?
For many older people, it isn’t just the absence of health problems — it’s the presence of meaning and connection. Social inclusion, which improves people’s ability to take part in society, helps create sustaining ties for older adults, reducing health-care costs and cutting the physical and mental toll of loneliness.
“Aging Well: Solutions to the Most Pressing Global Challenges of Aging,” a new guide by Jean Galiana and William Haseltine, lays out powerful reasons to consider social inclusion in everything from urban planning to hospice care. Haseltine, a scientist and philanthropist, is the chair and president of ACCESS Health International, a New York-based think tank devoted to accessible health care. The book looks at effective eldercare policies and practices around the world and points to ways to help people age well.
Most of the recommendations are straightforward, such as making long-term care insurance more accessible and coordinate primary care. But the recommendations don’t just have to do with costs or care facilities. Instead, words like “purpose” and “resilience” echo throughout the guide.
The authors point out several tactics that can help older people find purpose and connections in their lives.
One of them is cohousing, in which people share common spaces and neighborly support. Another, intergenerational learning, engages older people with younger students in universities, schools and care facilities. Even parks can help with social inclusion — outdoor seating encourages generational interaction while giving the elderly a safe place to enjoy their neighborhoods.
Social inclusion helps combat loneliness, a condition long linked to poor health.
A 2017 study funded by AARP found that older people who lack social contacts had higher death rates and spent more on health care than their more connected counterparts. Social isolation was associated with an estimated $6.7 billion in additional federal spending.
The authors say spaces and communities that include aging people fill “many psychological and social needs of older adults.” They call such communities “a powerful antidote to the pervasive systemic ageist stereotypes and prejudices seen around the world,” and a chance for people to continue lives filled with meaning, learning and relationships as they age.