As I write this, the holiday season is in full swing. In our family, annual traditions are treated with a good deal of reverence, especially by our teenage/young adult children who are getting ready to head out into the big, wide world. While new dishes can occasionally be introduced onto the Thanksgiving table, none can be eliminated - even the ones no one seems to eat (I'm talking about you, Brussels sprouts). The day after Thanksgiving, we drag our Thanksgiving houseguests, including our aging parents, to the local Christmas tree farm to cut our tree. As usual, this year we chose one that's a lot bigger in our living room than it looked outdoors. The process of getting it into the stand and covered in lights produced a few moments of predictable spousal conflict that the kids seems to count on and enjoy as much as any other ritual.
Traditions are important because they provide a sense of continuity even as things are constantly changing. My dad and his wife were regular holiday guests when our kids were small, but they're both gone now. Still, my kids are lucky enough to still have three spry grandparents in their lives. While several of them don't like to have their ages revealed, my husband and I are 50 and 55 and none of our parents were especially young when they had children.
This year, my mother and my father-in-law joined us for the holiday. My mom is still running a small business and my father-in-law is still playing golf. Watching them got me thinking about the risks of social isolation in older adults. Both of them live alone. My mom lives in a city, so she has many public transportation options if the time comes that she can no longer drive. My father-in-law lives in a New York suburb where a car is really the only option. They each still have friends and activities they like to pursue, but they've also each lost their only sibling and some important friends.
Social isolation is a major health and wellness concern among older people. I'm glad to see that helping older adults remain connected and engaged is emerging as a priority in many community and statewide efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of Vermonters.