Health & Science

Harris County Raises Awareness of Social Isolation

Social isolation occurs when people withdraw and become disconnected from family, friends and community

A group of seniors recently graduated from a class on managing chronic diseases, which is part of an initiative by the Harris County Public Health Department to mitigate social isolation.

Harris County is raising awareness of social isolation in some of its community centers and providing a resource guide to senior citizens who may be at risk of experiencing that problem.

Social isolation occurs when people withdraw and become disconnected from family, friends and community.

Seniors are more vulnerable to social isolation because of lifestyle changes they experience, such as retirement, the loss of a loved one or the development of health conditions. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, nearly 13 percent of the Harris County population –more than half a million— will be over 65 in 2020.

The county’s Public Health Department (HCPH) is in charge of the initiative, which also provides free classes on chronic disease self-management and Tai Chi, an exercise routine that helps seniors build strength and stability.

“Social isolation can lead to depression, dementia, and an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension,” said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of the HCPH. “With the growing senior population in Harris County,” Dr. Shah added, “an initiative like this is key to ensure this segment of our population is aging healthy.”

According to a report by the Harris County Area Agency on Aging, a focus group found feelings of isolation ranked as the highest concern among the group, with 55 percent of responses related to social isolation.

HCPH is also heightening awareness of senior social isolation through an ad campaign, which encourages the public to go to connect2affect.org for resources to combat the issue.

The website is powered by the AARP Foundation and enables seniors to take a test to determine if they are at risk of social isolation and find local resources.

EDITOR’s NOTE: The original version of this story reported that Harris County Public Health (HCPH) is providing resources to people at risk of social isolation, but HCPH is not providing resources. Instead, it is raising awareness of social isolation and providing a resource guide. The story has been corrected.

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