By Grace Maselli
Ah, the holidays. They’re like petri dishes, perfect for growing some feelings. Some happy. Some, less so. This Thanksgiving my teen kids will be with their father. My family of origin is in New England where I hail from. I’ll be here, in Tampa Bay. Technically, this makes me one of the proverbial holiday stray. When I stopped to think about the word stray, and actually looked it up in my trusty dictionary, the connotation was clearer than ever. In verb form, it’s “to move away aimlessly from a group or from the right course or place.” As an adjective, it’s “not in the right place; separated from the group or target.” Synonyms are “homeless” and “waif.”
I’m happy to report, dear reader, that rather than go astray I will, in fact, be in the right place. My Thanksgiving will be spent this year with timebankers from within and around the Tampa Bay area. Nothing aimless about that. I also have it on good authority that sometimes being the “target” may not always yield the best outcome. So pooh pooh to the language of strays this holiday season, because timebanking has brought me into the fold, connected me to kind friends and welcoming peeps. Gratitude doesn’t begin to fully express the appreciation I feel, not to mention anticipation at eating dee-lish foods at a shared, collaborative table.
This is not insignificant in the face of the loneliness epidemic in our country. According to Ken Burdick, CEO of Tampa-headquartered WellCare Health Plans, Inc. in one of his recent blog posts, “Loneliness poses the same health risk as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In fact, new research indicates weak social connections and feelings of extreme isolation could shorten a person’s life by 15 years. With more than one-third of U.S. adults age 45 or older indicating they are lonely, we’ve reached a critical number of individuals who are at risk for serious health outcomes.” Let’s ponder this while we slip into our stretchy pants and dive into some green bean casserole and pumpkin pie.
Ken goes on to say that persistent loneliness spikes risk for heart failure and cognitive decline. It’s also expensive to be lonely. “Beyond the health-related impact, social isolation and loneliness also have enormous fiscal implications. Every month, Medicare spends $134 more for socially isolated older adults than those adults who are more connected to their communities. This additional care translates into an estimated $6.7 billion in Medicare spending annually,” he says, positing that the health insurance industry needs to examine the issue to tee up some change. Among others, he writes to these verbatim specifics; take note of “Social Connections” in particular:
- Care in the Home. We must leverage care at home or outside of a clinical setting with support like the Program for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), a federal initiative offered through a combination of Medicare and Medicaid funding. The goal is to keep seniors in their homes versus a nursing home. The program also comprises 255 PACE day centers called “PACE without Walls.”
- Social Connections. We need to help members build a stronger community – being connected is one of the leading predictors of extended life.
- Caregiver Support. We must also look at programs to address the impact loneliness is having on caregivers and their ability to assist. Some of the ways WellCare supports caregivers include paid training courses, certifications to enable pay for services and care management support.
Timebanking’s got a 30+ year jump on helping people in communities around the world make deeper social connections, build a stronger network of kindred spirits and people to weed wack for or eat turkey with. (Or just the roasted sweet potatoes and corn, if you’re vegetarian or vegan.) I for one will think twice before pulling the word “stray” from the rotating file of choices in my head, before pairing it with a fine brussel sprout varietal and extra fluffy mashed potatoes, among other serious eats. Let’s raise a glass together to keep the old (or young) ticker pumping with joy.