Social isolation is a growing epidemic among older adults in America and Boulder County is addressing this concern through none else: outdoor intervention. The Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department initiated the program Senior Hikes to create an educational as well as a social experience for local seniors. The hikes include information on the area’s history, wildlife spotting, and resources for preserving the area, but Boulder County sees them as opportunities for social engagement.
“They would like to get out but they really can’t anymore so easily and it enables them to be part of the community and to feel really involved,” says Naturalist Trail Guide Sally Belle.
Senior involvement in the community has been on a steady decline in recent years, but the reasons for their absence varies between population, ability, and acceptance. Approximately 322,226 people make up Boulder County, but adults over the age of 65 contribute to less than 11% of the population. While the proportion of older adults in America is rising, they remain the minority in many communities and risk greater chances of neglect.
Senior Hikes and other similar outdoor programs offer older adults the chance to reconnect with nature as well as create social bonds, but for many the physicality of such programs are not possible. Ability is an important consideration in senior communities where many older adults are debilitated by disease, long-term medical conditions, or simply the effects of aging. Seniors who are unable to use physical exercise as an intervention run a higher risk for loneliness and depression resulting in a lower quality of life. But disability is not only physical. In Louisville, Colorado one program seeks to address the variety of disabilities through invoking memories.
The Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado recently enacted the SPARK! program which provides cultural, social, and physical opportunities for those with dementia and other forms of memory loss. Individuals as well as their caregivers can enjoy art, museums, concerts, and even sensory programs on outdoors hikes. SPARK! finds that engaging these individuals in familiar environments allows them to not only connect with personal memories, but socialize with those enduring the same symptoms.
Despite these outdoor and cultural programs, seniors remain the minority in a community dominated by youthfulness. Boulder specifically is an age-conscious area where residents participate in various anti-aging routines whether its high physical activity or health supplement consumption. The effects of aging are a prevalent concern among Boulder locals which may lead to an inadvertent neglect of the elder community. While there is no quick-fix for social isolation among elders, there is a present opportunity for engagement and acceptance among the younger generations.