Make an Effort
To overcome loneliness and social isolation, learn to “say yes.”
by Bill Donahue

Joyce Walsh and her husband Don were as close as two people could be. They were born in the same hospital in Flushing, New York. They lived in the same town. They attended the same grade school. Their parents were best friends.
“He knew me mostly as the little sister of my brothers,” she remembers. 
As they came of age, living their respective lives, they kept finding each other. One day, when she was a sophomore in college, Don phoned her home and asked her out. Their courtship led to marriage, and a grand journey that took them from their roots in New York to Texas and then the southeast corner of Pennsylvania—with plenty of overseas travel in between—for Don’s job as an attorney. They built a family along the way. 
Don passed away three and a half years ago, one month shy of their 60-year anniversary. 
“He was in nursing homes for five or six months, so I knew he was not going to be better,” she says. “It was very lonely coming in and not seeing him sitting in his chair. Evenings are the worst, because we always enjoyed having a cocktail and watched Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.”
Loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks affecting a significant number of people in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The lack of social interaction may contribute to serious medical conditions, such as dementia, depression, and heart disease.
The risks increase around the winter holidays, especially for people who do not have close families. In 2020, when social isolation has become the norm, the risks could be far greater. 
Walsh is fortunate to have a large and close-knit family, many of whom live close by. For those who do not have that luxury, she says breaking out of isolation requires a sincere effort. 
“Even though you may be alone, you’re not going to be lonely if you work at it,” she says. “When you get up in the morning, you have to make an effort to avoid loneliness. … Call a neighbor or a friend to take a walk, especially on the beautiful days like we’re having now.”
Walsh lives in Springton Lake Village, a welcoming community in Media, where she has made many close friends during her 14 years there. A spry 86 years old, she participates in a committee in charge of the clubhouse, she works out at the gym three days a week, and she enjoys social engagements on campus, such as cocktails and lunches—always at a safe and responsible distance.
“The social aspect is very important to your health,” she says. “I’m extroverted, and fortunately I’m in good shape, health-wise, and I like to be active. Winter is going to be tough this year. I do have my family, and I feel bad for my friends who have no family in the area, or even the state.”
Her best advice for keeping loneliness from creeping in: Say yes.
“I have a friend here who’s younger than I am, and she’s called me twice to help her look at deck flooring,” she says. “That’s not exciting to me, but I said sure. … Every yes is an opportunity to have a conversation and learn something.”

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, November 2020.