Meals On Wheels of San Francisco

Baruch speaking at a MOWSF volunteer training.

Thoughts on Aging: Isolation

Posted October 8, 2013


Everyone needs food. We cannot do without it. We also need human contact. We are social beings and relating to others is not merely a “nice” thing, it is essential in order to keep our minds and bodies sane and nourished. Unfortunately, in our culture many seniors are starving for human contact. At the same time more and more studies are documenting the bad effects of isolation.

At Meals on Wheels of San Francisco (MOWSF) it makes perfect sense to have programs that deliver both food as well as human contact to the seniors who us utilize our services. Since more than 65% of these seniors live alone, providing on-going sustainable contact with others makes a great deal of sense.

We know if we do not our muscles regularly our physical strength diminishes very quickly. Similarly, without sustained human connection we quickly lose mental functioning and extreme isolation over a sustained period of time is known to lead to symptoms associated with mental illness.

It is common for MOWSF seniors to express their gratitude not only for the food they receive but also for the personal contact with the one who delivers it to them. When we ask seniors if they would like someone to visit them many say “Yes” and they primarily want someone to just come and talk with them or take a walk together. Until and unless we have personally experienced prolonged isolation we have no idea how quickly we literally start to lose our minds and suffer aggressive physical decline.

One recent study published online by PLOS Medicine concluded:

“….the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity. …… physicians, health professionals, educators, and the media should now acknowledge that social relationships influence the health outcomes of adults and should take social relationships as seriously as other risk factors that affect mortality….” (See summary of “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review.”)

MOWSF strives to nourish the whole person and we take seriously the variety of “nourishment” that seniors need to sustain the best quality of lives for themselves. Our volunteer-run Friendly Visitor and Grocery Shopper programs are vital in carrying out the MOWSF mission.

“Thoughts on Aging” is a column by Baruch Gould, MOWSF’s Manager of Volunteer Programs, on issues related to seniors and aging.