“Senior isolation,” an umbrella term used to describe social isolation among people aged 65 and older, is an emerging issue worldwide, but especially in the United States. The latest U.S. Census, published in 2010, provided insight into why.
Eight years ago, when the baby boomer population was just beginning to turn 65, the Census Bureau reported that approximately 11 million American seniors lived alone. Contrary to popular belief, living alone does not automatically lead to a senior’s social isolation, although it can definitely be a contributing factor. What’s more important to note in the 2010 Census, is the age dependency ratio, which measures the pressure on the productive population capable of contributing to the workforce, and sheds light on the challenges that seniors and the younger generations have begun to face.
Like most statistics in the Census related to this age category, the older dependency ratio is expected to rise sharply as more than 10,000 baby boomers reach the age of 65 every day. It has been projected that there will be fewer than three people of working age (20 to 64 years old) to support every older person. Younger generations of Americans will face the pressure of caring for their elders while simultaneously balancing their day-to-day responsibilities.
Other trends—aging in place, smaller households and mobile technology—are contributing factors to senior isolation.
It has never been more important for homecare professionals to educate, advocate and generate awareness around this issue.
With that said, below are six ways of reducing isolation and improving the quality of life for seniors and, consequently, their younger counterparts.
1. Optimize consultations.
The consultation process can prove to be an integral step in detecting social isolation early on. When sitting down with a senior or their loved one for the first time, in addition to discussing their needs and creating a personalized plan, be cognizant of questions you can ask that can help you better determine the senior’s social status, such as: “Do they live alone?” “Do they have any family or friends nearby?” “How often do they see or speak to their family?” “Are they involved in any activities or social organizations?”
2. Speak up.
The homecare industry is about more than just giving care and fulfilling physical needs; companionship is a big part of our business. Human contact and interaction are paramount to a senior’s emotional and mental wellbeing, and with that comes trust and accountability. If you feel your client is displaying or discussing symptoms of depression or social isolation, tell someone—a spouse, a child, a family member or a close friend. The worst thing you can do is say nothing at all.
Research has shown that one out of every five seniors feels lonely a significant amount of the time. The typical senior’s social network has a way of breaking down naturally—children grow up and leave home, family and friends move, spouses and peers pass away, and the list goes on. Studies have shown that the effects of social isolation can be extremely detrimental to seniors, including an increased risk of mortality, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as other health issues. Most people can recognize that their aging loved one is lonely and even feel a sense of guilt, but few understand what senior isolation is and how they can help alleviate it.
4. Encourage seniors to be social or volunteer.
It has been found that there is a direct correlation between the number of social networks a senior is a part of and feelings of overall wellbeing. Research shows that for every social group a senior stops participating in, their quality of life drops by as much as 10 percent over a span of six years. This number can turn out to be pretty significant if taken into account how many social groups seniors drop out of post-retirement.
The single best way to combat senior isolation is to encourage seniors to join new social groups, or take advantage of available volunteer opportunities. There is a general assumption that the ideal lifestyle for seniors is one of leisure and rest. While not entirely untrue, most seniors still have a desire to engage with and contribute to society. When this desire is realized, it unlocks a renewed sense of purpose and value. This can also help increase physical activity, bridge generational gaps, as well as change minds about seniors’ capabilities and their contributions to their communities.
It’s often necessary to assist seniors in researching, identifying and evaluating social groups and volunteer opportunities that best fit their age, interests and physical abilities. Utilize your network of contacts to uncover more opportunities for them, and don’t be afraid to ask around.
Homecare professionals hold a certain level of responsibility to invoke change. Franchisees and their caregivers are encouraged to join industry-related organizations and boards, host events and build programs in their communities to steer the conversation and action in the right direction.
6. Be a resource.
All in all, it is important for homecare professionals to be a resource to seniors and their loved ones, caregivers, younger generations and their communities—and work to bridge the gaps. A better understanding of each other can lead to better teamwork and care.
Always In Touch—A Program for Senior Isolation
The contributing factors and negative effects of senior isolation have been reported by the U.S. Census, hundreds of surveys collected by the AARP and doctors who have dedicated their research to the growing issue. The following statistics expose its severity and demonstrate that feelings of loneliness and isolation can lead to serious consequences for senior health:
- Approximately 11 million American seniors live alone.
- Senior isolation increases the risk of mortality.
- Feelings of loneliness can negatively affect both physical and mental health.
More than 8 million adults over 50 are affected by isolation.
In an effort to drive awareness and combat social isolation in seniors, Always Best Care offers complimentary “telephone reassurance program” for clients that are homebound, isolated, living alone or in need of daily contact. Proprietary to Always Best Care, Always In Touch provides companionship to seniors and disabled adults across the U.S.
Individuals may refer themselves or be referred by a caregiver, medical professional, family member or service provider. This is not a referral service or medical alert service, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice or for the care that patients receive from their physicians and medical advisors. In the event of a medical emergency, those who utilize the program should call their doctor or 911 immediately.