Seasons of Change Blog
Social Isolation in the Senior Population & Elder Orphans Part 2: Solutions to Reduce Isolation
September’s blog continues with the topic of senior isolation but focuses on solutions and interventions to help alleviate this problem. A recent study by AARP, Stanford and Harvard project that between 20% – 30% of seniors experience loneliness at least some of the time. This situation leads to additional $6.7 billion dollars in Medicare monies being spent on seniors, whose health is affected negatively by social isolation, each year.
In our Cleveland market, and beyond, we are seeing Independent Living (IL) and Assisted Living (AL) facilities springing up like tulips in April and we ponder if our market will soon be over bedded. As a geriatric care manager I always strive to empower seniors to maintain in their own homes. This however is not the solution for all seniors. I clarify that staying in their home must be a safe situation and the senior must have some social outlet. I believe these two conditions must be met for the senior to achieve the highest quality of life.
I am currently working with a lovely gentleman, for whom a discharge home would certainly not be safe given the cluttered state of his home, bordering on hoarding, and the social isolation that his neighbors describe, among other issues. His caring neighbors state that he will isolate for lengthy periods of time, which causes them great concern. When I have visited him in the hospital, and now in a skilled facility, he is eager for conversation. This suggests to me that he would welcome regular human contact but yet have the opportunity to retreat to his private AL apartment for some daily quiet time. I have strongly encouraged his physician that a recommendation should be made for AL placement at discharge, close to his west-side neighbors so they can come and visit as they have indicated that they will. In this environment he will be encouraged to interact and any periods of self-isolation will be recognized and appropriate encouragement can be offered. Further, he will not have to deal with the clutter that he has been accustomed to living in, but clearly cannot deal with, which he considers to be normal living conditions.
Here are some proposed solutions to reduce social isolation:
For those who are active or have been active in their church or synagogue, their worship families must work diligently to engage their seniors by visiting in hospital or in the home. Parish nurses should become engaged with those frail elders who may not be able to get out anymore. Pastors or priests should be tasked with organizing visitors who can check in on the elder senior/elder orphan with some regularity not only for socialization purposes but also for safety checks.
Technology, while not a substitute for the human touch, can be an acceptable addition to the senior’s life. Scheduling Skype sessions with their family members and especially grandchildren or great-grandchildren can serve to be most enjoyable and decrease social isolation. These sessions should be treated as important appointments, which should not be cancelled recklessly. The anticipation, which the senior experiences for the upcoming session, can be as exciting and positive as the Skype session itself.
An additional technological gem is a program called PRISM which, when combined with an internet connection and coupled with vetted sites like National Institutes of Health Senior Health allows the senior access to email, games, and calendar.
For those of us who work in the healthcare industry we are surrounded with solutions but we must tap into these solutions and encourage the seniors that we know and work with to become more socially active. By doing so we will help seniors achieve better health outcomes, achieve a higher quality of life and reduce Medicare expenditures.