There is a host of research showing that social support is a predicting factor for emotional and physical well-being. Isolation is a threat to psychological health, physical health, and, ultimately, survival. This is true for every human being, but, unfortunately, seniors are more prone to such dangers in today’s world.
So, what is senior isolation, and how can we help? Senior isolation is when older people are forced to age alone by circumstances rather than by choice. Regularly contacting our older loved ones and involving them in our lives is our first line of defense against senior isolation.
Most people associate neglect with children, and indeed, this is a severe problem. But as we have seen, the older members of our population are also at risk of isolation, neglect, and physical and mental fallout. Let’s look at how we can help and how we might do so even in a world suffering through restrictions associated with the modern pandemic.
What Causes Senior Isolation Exactly?
As people age, their lives undergo dramatic changes. For the elderly, these changes are not always positive. Their children move out and start lives of their own, and it is common for young people to get caught up in their new and busy lives and forget to include their parents.
With the kids all gone, older couples often downsize to a smaller house, leaving behind all the neighbors they have known and connected with because of their shared location.
As they reach retirement age, they leave their jobs and their colleagues, losing the social aspect of working with people and the mental stimulation provided by employment.
Eventually, spouses pass away, as do siblings, extended family members, and friends of their generation.
With age comes the loss of mobility, not just walking and moving about on their own, but also the ability to operate cars, public transport systems, etc., the world that older people have access to shrinks.
The result is a generation of people who are aging alone, without the emotional and physical support of a social circle. This is senior isolation. Even married couples who still have the company of their spouse can suffer from senior isolation.
The Ill-Effects Of Senior Isolation
According to the CDC, social isolation increases the risk of premature death from any cause, the risk of dementia by a staggering 50%, the risk of heart disease by 29%, and the risk of stroke by 32%.
Senior isolation quickly leads to loneliness, which is associated with an increased likelihood of depression, anxiety, suicide, and death from medical conditions.
Seniors who are experiencing isolation can easily suffer from malnutrition. Food becomes more expensive than they can afford. They become less able to cook for themselves and eat less or eat convenience foods, which are not healthy. Moreover, they may end up living in squalid conditions as they lose the ability to move around and clean properly.
Senior isolation even increases the risk of death from things that should not be fatal. Older people fall and are unable to call for help. If there is no one to check on them, they may die due to a broken leg or hip.
A Necessary Note On The Effects Of COVID On Senior Isolation
Nobody foresaw a global pandemic hitting, but the reality is that it has. Among the innumerable aspects of life that COVID has affected, senior isolation has, necessarily, increased.
Older people are most at risk of dying due to the virus, so they are encouraged to isolate themselves. Their families were told to stop seeing them in order to keep them safe.
However, isolation increases their risk of death in other ways, as we have already discussed.
How We Can Help Senior Citizens Avoid Isolation
Helping As A Relative
- Set up a time to have regular phone calls with your senior relative; every day or every second day. If you have siblings or other relatives, rope them in too. Thirty minutes of your day will mean so much to them and making it a regular appointment will give them something to look forward to.
- Make extra food a couple of nights a week and drop a meal off for them. Stay for a short chat, even if it’s just a driveway or window chat, to follow COVID regulations.
- Ask them for advice or to tell you stories of their childhood. Senior citizens are essential to our society and us individually and should be valued and know that they are valued and loved. It can really be just the little things, like calling them for help with a recipe or speaking to them about a problem you are having with the car.
- Treat them to their favorite things. If you know your relative loves gardening, then take them to a botanical garden for a stroll in the open air (COVID conscious choice). If they have a sweet tooth, arrange for the delivery of a goodie bag, or take it to them yourself. Do these things just because, not only to celebrate special occasions.
- Help to set them up with technology. Many older people have adapted well to video calls and social media, keeping them involved even if they have to stay away to adhere to safety regulations.
- Encourage them to take up a hobby or take an interest in a hobby they are already pursuing.
- Encourage and assist them to go for regular health check-ups, including vision and hearing tests.
- Encourage them to befriend neighbors and ask neighbors if they can notify you if they suspect something has happened.
Helping As A Neighbor
- Befriend your elderly neighbor. Engage them in the driveway or over-the-wall chats. Speak about common issues and positives in the area in which you both live.
- Make sure your elderly neighbor is checked upon. If you notice that their lights don’t go on at night, or they don’t collect their mail or water their garden, go over and check on them. You can even ask them if they would be comfortable giving you a number for a relative you can call in case of emergencies.
- Offer to go shopping for them or offer to take them with you when you go.
- Offer to help them with any gardening or home maintenance that you can see needs doing or that they are trying to do.
- Invite them to join you on walks around the block or neighborhood. With masks and social distancing, this is still a viable option during COVID.
Helping As A Citizen
- Volunteer your time at a retirement village or assisted living facility. Some of them have programs where you can provide company for the residents who are not often visited by their families or do not have families.
- You can volunteer at one of the organizations listed by the CDC. These organizations are specifically aimed at providing resources to the older members of society.
Senior isolation is not the result of the current global pandemic, although it is profoundly impacted by the further isolation regulations. Senior isolation has long been a problem in our society.
The older generation often feels abandoned and insignificant as the younger generation’s lives evolve, and they become less dependent on parents and grandparents. However, their value does not change even if we are no longer dependent on them. We have to remember this and make it known to our senior relatives, neighbors, and general society.
There are so many ways to help the elderly population not to feel so isolated. A regular phone call to a loved one, offering to take an older neighbor shopping, and investing in or volunteering for organizations that mainly aid in senior isolation prevention and relief programs.
ABOUT ameriCARE San Francisco
ameriCARE San Francisco is a family-owned and operated home care agency serving all the San Francisco Bay Area. We are a new kind of in-home care. We believe it’s time the senior home care experience became more personalized, positive, and empowering. We offer home care assistance that is flexible and accommodating to your schedule with no contracts.
Our in-home care services leverage smart technology that not only improves our personalized care plans but also provides more transparency into our daily care in the home and our communication with the entire care circle. ameriCARE San Francisco believes that thoughtful, personalized care has the power to not only maintain but also enrich anyone’s quality of life.