Friday, 23 February 2018

Senior Isolation

With our increasing aging population, there is significant talk about 'active and engaged' seniors. There are 'action plans for seniors', talk of resource connection and development and seniors working well into their retirement years. Yet, there is a whole group of seniors that we hear little about - those who are socially isolated. There are several risk factors to becoming socially isolated including "older age (being aged 80+), living alone, having no children or contact with family, having a chronic illness or disability, loss of vision or hearing, mobility issues, lack of access to transportation, living with a low income, membership in a vulnerable group, language (non-English speaking) and location (rural, unsafe or inaccessible)" (from: www.cbc.ca/news/
canada/hamilton/hamilton-senior-isolation-1.4464883). Humans are social beings; having regular contact with others can make the difference between health and wellness. These are the people that most need an 'action plan' yet more than likely they are the ones who fall between the cracks. With isolation, one can become depressed, develop mental health issues and experience a health decline. Often, this can go unnoticed, until perhaps a family doctor or some other resources identifies the issue and tries to connect the person to supports. For some, by the time this happens it might be too late to reverse the presenting issues and a downward spiral ensues. 
So what can we do to fix this problem? In Hamilton, Ontario there is a 3 year program developed by 7 organizations, called HSIIP - the Hamilton Seniors Isolation Impact Plan (http://socialisolation.ca/) whose aim is to reduce isolation among seniors. As well, a study to be conducted by a PhD candidate at McMaster University in the spring will explore the issue of isolation in senior women in downtown Hamilton. Hopefully the findings of both the HSIIP program and this study will help to create change for other communities in the future. 
Beyond this, we as individuals can make a difference as well. Are you concerned that a senior you know might be isolated and/or need some support? Start a conversation. If they are interested in getting out a bit, contact your local seniors organization and ask for information on programs that you can pass along. If they are well enough and willing to engage in a conversation about things they can do to get out, suggest they volunteer or take a class. If you are able to, reach out. Invite them for tea or offer to take them out somewhere. Sometimes, simply letting someone know that you care, can go a long way.

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