Beyond the Bedside: PROMOTING GREATER WELL-BEING FOR OUR SENIORS
Part One, Social Isolation
Beyond the Bedside is a series of articles that address the major issues surrounding the care of our senior population. These subjects are discussed with an emphasis on aspects other than bedside resident care. There are many other factors to consider when discussing an individual’s overall health. The first installment of the series focuses on social isolation. We examine what it is and how we may identify its symptoms. Also, what we can do to combat or treat it before it starts.
By far, the best thing about retiring and aging is the time you have to accomplish all the things you couldn’t when you were busy. The younger we are, the less we worry about the future. We may also be unconcerned about future support needs.
The intensity of the struggle for independence grows significantly in the decades to follow. As their children get older, parents might turn to adult children for various types of caregiving support. Additionally, in-home care, assisted living communities, and area aging programs are available.
Regardless of the care chosen or who provides it, it does not end at the bedside. Your work is so critical. Physical health is merely one aspect of the individual. In what ways are we supporting our seniors and helping them lead fulfilling lives by providing them creative outlets, physical activity, friendship, and a listening ear?
Long Before 2020, Our Seniors Were in Quarantine
Limitations during the pandemic helped safeguard elders, but they also limited interactions with family and friends. The result of this is a considerable surge in isolation reports. 56% of older adults reported feeling alone in June of 2020, according to the findings of a University of Michigan poll on healthy aging. An observational study found that isolation can lead to many medical conditions. These include an increased risk of obesity, cognitive decline, and depression.
A Fourth of Seniors Are Socially Isolated
One-quarter of Americans aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated; a large percentage of seniors in this study reported feeling lonely. But prior to the pandemic, we had seniors feeling isolated because of facts we’ve seen previously. For seniors, loneliness and isolation can be twice as harmful as obesity and can be as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Alternatively, you can start a conversation with someone you know to learn that social isolation is widespread and an epidemic in its own right..
What Social Isolation Looks Like
Social isolation occurs when people withdraw from their family, friends, and the community. For a number of reasons, this may occur. It’s solitude that’s unwanted and unhealthy. There are many seniors who are hesitant to ask for help. Often the have more difficulty admitting their need for help. Sometimes the best approach is to keep an eye out for warning indicators such as:
- Poor eating habits or lack of appetite
- Absence of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Withdrawal and boredom
- Spending less time outside the home
- Disinterest in pursuing an active lifestyle
- A sense of disconnect
Look familiar? As the indicators of social isolation in seniors mimic depression, they’re not so different after all. If you know what to look for in someone who may be suffering from depression, you’ll most likely recognize indicators of social isolation.
A Few Ways We Can Help Our Seniors
It is always vital for friends and family to check in on their loved ones to see how they are doing. This lightens the stress of being alone. Some ideas that may help older adults feel cared for are below:
Advocate for and support meal delivery services, volunteer as a meal delivery driver, cook a dinner for our seniors, or simply sit and dine with them. These ideas assist those who are at risk of social isolation to receive sufficient nutrition. Additionally, your aid in the social experiences of others can benefit anyone.
A Listening Ear
It is quite impossible to meet an older adult who has not had some level of difficulty in their life. Our seniors have amassed an abundance of life experience and the wisdom that comes with it. Consider lending a listening ear, visiting, writing letters, sending postcards, calling, or emailing our most treasured resources.
Activities and hobbies are naturally very sociable. Seniors involved in things that interest them and those who have a purpose are more likely to avoid the effects of social isolation. Some suggestions are board and card games, watching a favorite show together, gardening, and getting outside for some fresh air and exercise.
Access to proper transportation services is crucial for seniors, who aren’t driving, to preserve their sense of connection and independence and their ability to access programs and resources. Offering rides and supporting senior family members in learning to use public transportation will also help them maintain social connections and a healthy sense of independence. Transportation also helps to keep current with medical visits.
A Friend’s Personal Message
My grandfather was adamant about having a pet. After years of searching shelters, he found his perfect companion. His Charlie instilled a sense of purpose in him by actively grooming him to be an extremely social cat. You couldn’t have a conversation with my pap without him mentioning Charlie and his pranks, as much head shaking ensued. I intended to care for my grandfather’s four-legged fur baby following his death, and Charlie is now passing on his delightful antics to yet another generation.
Next in the Series
Tackling the problem of social isolation requires a desperate sense of wanting to do something to help battle it. It is not only important to maintain relationships with previous generations, but it is also critical to foster and nurture meaningful relationships with those that follow.
We will discuss creativity in part two of the series, focusing on its significance throughout the senior stage of life. Because what sets your heart on fire doesn’t stop at the golden years.