Working with Seniors for over 10 years, it’s become increasingly evident isolation is a fast-growing problem among them.
What’s worse, it’s a silent problem, rarely spoken about, and often not acknowledged as a contributing cause in the gradual deterioration of their physical health.
Our mental state has much to do with how our bodies react. This is shown in several studies and articles, including one published by the Canadian Mental Health Association. It states:
“Poor mental health is risk factor for chronic physical conditions”
I’ve often witnessed isolation leading to mental health concerns in seniors. One of the deciding factors considered by families to move their elderly loved ones into a Retirement Residence setting is to increase their social interaction. When there is nothing to do, no one to talk to, and no reason to leave the home, seniors can quickly find themselves living a life in isolation. Unless awareness is brought to the attention of this epidemic, isolation will soon become a leading cause of mental and physical health problems for the Elderly.
Communities offer several free services to Seniors that can assist in preventing isolation. Retiree clubs, rotary clubs, volunteer positions within the community services, church groups, many programs geared towards seniors offered by the public library system, and community centres. Similar services exist in the school system as well, for example, Ryerson University offers a number of Seniors programs.
These are great options for many able and active Seniors - but what about the Elderly who are less mobile, less able, those who have physical constraints? Or those with financial reasons restricting them from getting out and joining the activities within their communities? Few seniors know all the options, programming, activities, and groups they can join – how would they hear about them if they live in isolation? Also, there’s a mental hurdle for many Seniors who have lived on their own for many years. Seniors who are used to feeling isolated, often resist any change in their daily routine, even if it means their overall health and well being could improve.
There needs to be a push towards reaching out to isolated Seniors to make them feel less alone, and more comfortable taking small steps towards changing their lifestyle.
We need to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions for Seniors who are living in isolation - and aren’t comfortable with the idea of large group settings.
Perhaps a one-on-one approach is best for them. Volunteers who visit them in their homes, bringing puzzles or board games, or simply offering good conversation is an alternate solution I’ve seen work wonders, first hand with my clients. Caring neighbours are a great asset to these lonely Seniors, but first we need to increase the awareness of this problem among community members. Neighbours, schools, churches, and other religious groups could be of immense value if they came together and offered solutions within their communities on how to fight isolation.
It’s really an issue of quality of life.
A person might be alive, but not living life. And quality of life comes from the relationships we have with others. As humans, we are wired to need to connect with people. Living alone, in isolation, is no way to live.
And certainly not a way to live a quality life.
- Talia Khanania
Elder Care Transitions