Helping Seniors Deal With Chronic Isolation

helping seniors in need

In early 2017, our team launched our new community education strategic plan. It was developed by listening to the needs of our Senior Life Solutions team members. The number one question asked was, “How do we reach everyone in our community who could benefit from Senior Life Solutions?” We hope the community education tools we put in place have provided, and will continue to provide the support and guidance to reach all seniors in need. One population of seniors we are struggling to identify are the ones who suffer from chronic isolation. The University of California did a study and found out older adults who describe themselves as lonely have a 59% greater risk of functional decline and a 45% greater risk of death. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 11 million, or 28% of people aged 65 and older, live alone. As people get older, their likelihood of living alone only increases. Living alone does not always lead to chronic isolation, but we know it can play a factor.

Facts about senior isolation according to the National Council on Aging:

  • Senior isolation increases the risk of mortality
  • Feelings of loneliness can negatively affect both physical and mental health
  • Perceived loneliness contributes to cognitive decline and risk of dementia
  • Social isolation makes senior more vulnerable to elder abuse
  • Social isolation is linked to long-term illness
  • Loneliness is a major risk factor for depression
  • Loneliness can cause high blood pressure
  • Social isolation may cause pessimism toward the future
  • Physical and geographic isolation often leads to social isolation
  • Isolated seniors are more likely to need long-term care
  • Loss of a spouse is a major risk factor for loneliness and isolation
  • Transportation challenges can lead to social isolation
  • Caregivers of the elderly are at risk for social isolation

How to help others identify seniors in their communities who are struggling with chronic isolation:

  • Talk to primary caregivers and staff about how to identify
  • Train hospital employees on how to identify
  • Ask churches and community groups to look for signs of isolation in older members
  • Provide in-service to police, firemen and paramedics on how to identify
  • Speak at civic organizations on how to recognize signs of chronic isolation

“Don’t you meddle in my business,” is an older expression you may have heard. We’ve often been told older adults don’t like us to pry into their personal business, but we find ourselves sitting for long periods of times listening to older adults telling stories of lost loves ones, a recent health diagnosis, and childhood memories. Many of these people we meet are people who we easily identified as an individual who could benefit from our program. Those who are not easily identified are the individuals we’ve been told not to bother, or never get the opportunity to speak with. We can choose to believe this longstanding way of thinking, or we can help change a culture by saying, “We believe it’s all our responsibility to be an advocate for the ones who seek help, for the ones who don’t know how to ask for help, and even for the ones that say no I don’t need help.” By reaching out a hand and getting involved, not only does it help individuals, but the community as whole.