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Maryland Is the Worst State For Retirement, But Can We Prevent Senior Loneliness?

In the U.S., more than 10,000 people reach the retirement age of 65 each day. And according to one recent study, Maryland is actually the worst place for seniors to live. But for those who do call the Old Line State their home, how can their quality of life be improved?

In a Bankrate study that analyzed affordability, weather, crime, culture, and overall wellness, among other factors, the state of Maryland was ranked 50 out of 50 — in last place. While the weather was fairly well-regarded here, affordability, crime, wellness, and culture brought down the state’s ranking. Although 63% of people have moved to a new community at least once, the rating doesn’t exactly make many seniors want to relocate here.  In fact, even though 35.5 million Americans move every year, seniors are far more likely to move out of state rather than settle in Maryland.

And yet, many already call this state home. According to Maryland’s Department of Aging, Maryland’s population of residents ages 60 and above is expected to increase by 40%, from 1.2 million to 1.7 million. Maryland is one of four U.S. states with rent-control laws, meaning that Maryland can do a bit more to keep certain housing costs down. Affordable senior housing construction is also happening, though it’s likely not yet enough to meet the growing demand. But while individuals may not be able to make sweeping changes in the housing market, there may be other steps they can take to improve quality of life for senior citizens in the area.

The reality is that mental health issues are just as concerning for seniors as the costs of living. While 26% of American adults live with a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, studies show that one in three seniors is lonely. Since 13.8 million older people throughout the U.S. live alone, social isolation can be a huge hurdle to overcome. What’s more, feelings of loneliness can have as big a health impact as excessive drinking or smoking, according to a 2010 study, and another report released by AARP revealed that social isolation is responsible for an added $6.7 billion in Medicare spending each year. That’s not entirely surprising, seeing as research has linked social isolation and loneliness with higher risks of heart disease, weakened immune systems, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and high blood pressure.

So what can be done? It’s time for seniors to get social. Local senior centers, companion programs, neighborhood “villages,” and senior living communities all provide opportunities for older people to interact with others. There’s also a new Cycling Without Age program in Maryland that can provide both physical and emotional benefits of this activity. Providing the opportunity for pet ownership can also provide seniors with a sense of responsibility, as well as social benefits. Adaptive technology, accessible transportation, and even religious worship can all play an important role in preventing senior isolation. Of course, it’s tough when seniors do not have any family members nearby, but neighbors and other caregivers can also make a huge difference in quality of life for these vulnerable individuals.

In the end, aging is inescapable. And while Maryland may not always offer the most affordable housing options, there are plenty of reasons to love living here — regardless of how old you are. By taking steps to prioritize social interaction, you can do your part to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and depression as you (or your loved ones) age.

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