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This series by Eric Litwiller of the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas looks at mental health in the Wichita area. It is in conjunction with the Wichita Journalism Collaborative.

Commentary: The mental impacts of isolation on the aging can be significant

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According to the Kansas Health Foundation, the population of Kansas has been aging since at least the year 2000, with median age increasing by nearly 18 months, and the percentage of Kansans 65 and older going from 13.3% to 15% of the population in only 16 years. Along with this comes a new challenge for older Wichitans… the mental health effects of aging.

In addition to the depression that often comes with chronic age-related illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and stroke, age-induced isolation has been shown to decrease both the quality and longevity of life by the equivalent of smoking 10 cigarettes a day. For older Wichitans who are experiencing isolation due to reduced physical mobility, family members who have moved away from the area, and the passing of local friends, the mental health impacts can be significant. This already-existing isolation can lead to sleep issues and personality disorders, and hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

To address these concerns, Wichitans are encouraged to seek senior companion programs or respite care for distant family members or for caregivers, especially since same-aged caregivers are far more likely to pass away before the people for whom they are providing care. There are numerous non-profit organizations throughout south central Kansas who provide programs explicitly for our aging citizens, and they exist to ensure that all Wichitans can age with the dignity that they deserve.