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Combatting Isolation

Province: CA

It's not uncommon to hear stories of seniors who are 'shut ins' - those who are isolated and do not leave their homes. It may happen because of physical issues and disabilities, mental health issues like depression or perhaps, a bit of both. Regardless of the cause, the outcome is never good. Isolated seniors are more at risk for both physical and mental health issues regardless of the underlying factor. It makes complete sense - human beings are social beings and need to connect with others. Without human interaction mental stimulation is diminished and so too is mental health.


So, how can one help a senior who seems to be socially isolated?  As a first step, it seems logical to address the reason for isolation especially if it is new behavior for the person. Is it because of  new physical issues for example, vision or hearing loss, incontinence, a feeling of sadness, a recent significant loss of someone close? If it is a physical issue, are there any adaptive technologies that can assist? If it's related to loss or depression, would the person be willing to speak with a doctor, clergy or therapist? If they won't are there family members or friends who can assist and speak with the person or visit more often to encourage them to go out and do things?


When we feel a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the morning, we are more inclined to be less isolated. This can be anything from caring for someone or something else, volunteering, meeting friends or even having a hobby. Joining a seniors club where there are regular activities, perhaps congregate dining, and a place to meet others, may meet the needs of some. For others, getting a pet (as long as they are mentally competent) may ease some loneliness and in the case of a dog, may get the person outside for walks and opportunities to interact with others.


Although not as ideal as actually getting outside and meeting people in person, for those with physical issues that prevent them from leaving the house often, technology may assist with allowing them to interact with others through social media, email and phone/video type programs such as Skype.This is especially helpful if loved ones live far away and cannot visit often.


If you are concerned about a senior for whatever reason, do contact professionals involved with the person, a family doctor or a seniors support organization for suggestions and assistance.


Esther Goldstein, B.Sc., B.S.W., RSW


 

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