Isolation and loneliness have been linked to a variety of health risks, such as a higher rate of heart attack, stroke, depression, anxiety, and even premature death. Social isolation, especially among the senior population, is fast becoming an epidemic[i] in America. Loneliness, however, is reversible; there are things individuals and communities can do to help seniors feel included.
How Home Care Helps Combat Social Isolation
An AARP-sponsored study on the impact of loneliness on seniors found that more than a third of those surveyed, who were between the ages of 50 and 80, feel a lack of companionship at least some of the time. About 30% of the respondents reported that they socialize with friends, family or neighbors once a week or less. The University of Michigan conducted the study.
Even those who live with family can still feel lonely from a lack of companionship. The researchers found that in addition to living alone, factors such as not working (in retirement) can have an impact on whether a senior will feel lonely or isolated.
“Home care can address more than the care needs of an individual,” says James Davis, co-owner of Right at Home in Albany, New York. “Companionship that comes with home care is also important to the overall health of the care recipient.”
Companion care, specifically, addresses the emotional needs of clients who are facing challenges with aging, health and/or disabilities.
But what does companionship mean? “It’s really all about finding ways to relate to one another … finding the common ground to make a difference,” says Davis.
Davis perceives his caregivers’ soft skills as an important part to providing quality care for clients. For this reason, he provides soft skills training — workshops on cross-generational communication and socialization — to his caregivers.
How Technologies Create Meaningful Connections
Do Space in Omaha, Nebraska, is a nonprofit community space dedicated to improving lives by giving people access to technologies. Their Cyber Seniors program recruits tech-savvy seniors to volunteer and help their fellow elderly community members troubleshoot tech issues.
Extended Reading: Data Privacy Tips for Senior Loved Ones
“We want people to utilize technology and become empowered to do more,” says Weston Thomson, Director of Community Learning at Do Space. “Our goal with Cyber Seniors is to educate and show seniors how technologies can improve their lives.”
Once seniors feel comfortable using a new technology — be it a computer or a mobile device — they can access a whole suite of tools that will connect them with the wider world. For example, they can video chat with loved ones who live far away, order on-demand transportation through mobile apps when they can no longer drive, connect with family and friends through social media platforms, and meet like-minded individuals through networking and group activity websites such as Meetup.com and neighborhood social networks like Nextdoor.
How Senior Living Communities Build Relationships
Martin Siefering, a Principal at Perkins Eastman and one of the lead architects within their senior living practice, says culture plays a big role in how we approach aging and the way that seniors feel integrated — or isolated — within the wider community.
He reflected on the design of existing senior living communities and how physically removed they are from the greater community. “Is that what seniors really wanted, or did we push them into that?” Siefering says. “No matter where a senior chooses to age, we have to think about how communities can help them remain connected to others in some ways.”
Extended Reading: The Evolution of Senior Living
Siefering has been working on new projects for senior living spaces that are more connected and integrated into the surrounding community.
“We thought about how senior living communities could build relationships with people who don’t necessarily want to move there, and the answer was to create a space that was functional for all ages and offer memberships for those who want to use the amenities,” Siefering says, citing the Center for Healthy Living, a recent property he designed in Naples, Florida. “It allows for more diversity and brings people from different generations together for a common purpose, like an art gallery opening or dining at a great restaurant.”
How the Collective Power of Community Can End Social Isolation in Seniors
The greatest way to end social isolation in seniors is to take collective action as a society. This month, we’d like to challenge all of our readers to take action against senior isolation in your community. Whether that involves volunteering your time at a senior center, taking an elderly loved one out to dinner, or simply striking up a conversation with a senior sitting alone, we’d love to hear about how you are working to combat senior isolation. Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, or on Twitter @RightatHomeUS.
[i] The “Loneliness Epidemic,” Health Resources & Services Administration (January 2019), retrieved from https://www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic.