Harris County Public Health Raising Awareness of Senior Social Isolation   

Program seeks to ensure aging populations are staying connected

HOUSTON — Harris County Public Health (HCPH) has kicked off a campaign to increase awareness of the growing, senior social isolation issue and is engaging seniors in Harris County. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, in 2020, nearly 13 percent of the Harris County population will be over 65 (more than half a million).

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

Social isolation occurs when people withdraw and become disconnected from family, friends and community. Seniors are more susceptible because of lifestyle changes they experience, such as retirement, the loss of a loved one or the development of health conditions.

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. To address the issue in Harris County, HCPH is providing free classes on chronic disease self-management, Tai Chi and other wellness activities at select community centers throughout the community. Some centers also receive a senior resource guide with information on social activities, nutrition, living assistance, transportation and more.

“We’re teaching seniors how to manage chronic disease conditions in an effort to help them gain self-confidence, awareness and to ultimately feel less isolated.” says Sherri Onyiego, MD, chronic disease prevention physician with HCPH’s Nutrition and Chronic Disease Prevention Division. “The classes give them an opportunity to get out of the house and interact with others.”

HCPH is also heightening awareness of the issue through an ad campaign, which encourages the public to go to the AARP Foundation website, connect2affect.orgfor resources to reduce social isolation. On the website seniors can take a test to determine if he or she is at risk of social isolation and find local resources to help them connect within their community. Harris County Precinct Offices also offer a variety of senior-related activities for the community.