Senior Independence Awareness Month: Part II


Social Isolation is defined as the state of complete or near-complete lack of contact with other individuals. Not to be confused with loneliness that is decided upon people’s levels of satisfaction with one’s connectedness.

Social Isolation is particularly a concern for senior individuals because it’s effects can impact one’s life expectancy. A 2016 study at Newcastle University linked loneliness to a 30 percent increase in risk of stroke or the development of coronary heart disease (Heart, Vol. 102, No. 13). In addition, Florida State University College of Medicine found that loneliness is associated with a 40 percent increase in a person’s risk of dementia (The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, online 2018).

Senior centers offer a social setting to gather and perform group activities. These settings may include games, exercise, and congregate dining areas.

According to studies, social engagement and activities foster a variety of benefits for long-term health such as:

  • Improving physical health through engaging in physical activities and games
  • Optimize cognitive function by regularly engaging in mentally stimulating games and puzzles
  • Improved mood through being in the presence of others who are also engaged in a safe environment.


In 2020, many senior centers had to adapt their services to still keep their clients engaged socially while being mindful of health and safety measures.

With funds received from UNITED We Stand COVID-19 Relief Fund, The Minneluzahan Senior Center assembled meals to deliver to their clientele. As an added bonus, they also give away a $50 gift card each week to someone who completes the mentally stimulating activity (fun & games) and sends it back to the senior center. If they are the winner and are already blessed, the center encouraged the winner to ‘Pay It Forward.’

“A member called to inquire about the Happy Paks but her membership had expired and she did not have $30 to renew it. The first winner of the $50 gift card from the fun activity in the Paks wanted to pay it forward. She gave her $50 back to Minneluzahan so the other member could renew her membership and sign up for the Happy Paks. It was a nice example of giving & sharing.” said a Minneluzahan representative.

UWBH funding made it possible for Minneluzahan to serve their members while they were closed from March - September.

In addition, the Meade County Senior Center in Sturgis received a UNITED We Stand COVID-19 mental health grant to provide a mental health counselor onsite to clients who were struggling navigating the stress and isolation associated with the pandemic.

“According to the United Way of the Black Hills 2019 Community Needs Assessment, data in 2018 showed an increase from 2015 8.6% of clients reporting symptoms of chronic depression...although these findings do not specify age groups, it is evident that mental health has been an ongoing and increasing issue in the community. The pandemic is inevitably a source that would increase the need for mental health services.”, shared Noreen Suniga, director of the Meade County Senior Center.

With UWBH funding, The Custer Senior Center was able to provide programs that will address the seven dimensions of wellness, which include physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental, and occupational.

The Custer Senior Center reiterated the impact of mental health in the senior population in Custer.

“According to the (2019 CNA), in 2015, 23.8% of Custer's population was diagnosed with chronic depression. In 2018, this rate jumped 20% to almost 30% of Custer's population being diagnosed with chronic depression. What is very concerning is many residents may be depressed, yet they are not aware of their underlying mental health problem. Along with this, Custer's aging trend is climbing. Nearly 22% of Custer residents are between the ages of 60-69 years of age, and 10% of residents are 70-79 years of age,” shared the Custer Senior Center.

Through providing this wellness program to their clients, they hope to reach and provide help and resources to more lives who may be struggling with underlying mental health problems and may not be aware of their condition.

Activities for seniors to stay engaged

There are many ways to get involved in your community, and the first step is to identify your interests.

  • Join a local senior center or wellness facility. Do you enjoy a particular activity such as Dancing? Playing card games? Reading? Golfing? Bingo? Gardening? Find a local senior center that provides a variety of these activities to help keep you engaged (and maybe learn a new skill!)
  • Volunteer in your community. There is intrinsic value that comes from helping others. From packing meals, to organizing donated items to a shelter, there are many ways to get involved in the community. There are even activities that follow CDC health guidelines, or activities that may involve not leaving your house at all! If you are interested in volunteering in your community but don’t know where to start, we encourage you to call the 2-1-1 Helpline Center to provide you with direction.

About this series

This story is part one of a three part series on: Sharing the community benefit of senior independence as February is Senior Independence Awareness Month In this three part series, we will be sharing all the ways we support senior independence from: access to nutritious meals, mental health services, social activities, transportation assistance and advocacy programs.

According to our 2019 Community Needs Assessment, mental health was identified as a top #1 priority need throughout the Black Hills. We look forward to collaborating with organizations that serve these communities and identify other potential gaps or how these populations can have an optimal experience with the goal of promoting independence in the senior community.