The past month has been one of celebration for many of us. The holiday season is often a wonderful time of connecting with friends and family. I am blessed with a small immediate family but a very large extended one.
This month we had our 24th annual legislative breakfast. We talked on that day about the true meaning of community; a word tied directly to the verb commune. Being “in the community” is not the same as being “in community” that is, connecting with others.
Humans are social creatures and so often people with disabilities find themselves more isolated than they choose to be. This happens regardless of the type of disability. Lately we have been growing increasingly concerned about the growth in isolation that is occurring in some parts of Wisconsin due to service reductions by managed care organizations. We think it is vital to stand up and ask our elected officials and policy makers to ensure that people with disabilities can continue to spend time outside their own homes with others. We talked during the breakfast about the policy in Kansas that provides funding so people can be outside their home up to 5 days a week for 5 hours per day if that is what they choose.
Researchers are only beginning to understand the cost of social isolation but already recognize that feeling lonely increases a person’s average risk for coronary heart disease and stroke, two of the developed world’s most prolific killers, by 50%. That makes social isolation a more powerful predictor of vascular diseases than either high blood pressure or obesity.
Unfortunately, the people ASPIRO supports are very prone to isolation. Disabilities, living alone, reduced social networks, transportation issues, poverty, low self-esteem, and poor health are all defined risk factors for isolation. Many of those we support live with some of these factors. ASPIRO’s goal is to engage people, every day, so that when they return home after spending an active day with us they are energized and feel connected. Just like me, they too should be blessed with a very large extended family.