ACTIONABLE PLAN: How You Can Help Seniors Avoid Social Isolation
As people age, they are vulnerable to a plethora of health ailments. Making matters worse are certain realities that are not conducive to health or happiness. Social isolation is one such reality that can take a toll on seniors. It can affect health, happiness, level of satiation with life and even the willingness to live. Social isolation is one of the most common problems plaguing seniors of our times.
What is Social Isolation?
In simple words, social isolation is a situation when someone doesn’t feel being a part of the society at large. When people don’t have societal relationships, don’t mingle or interact with other people, don’t get to talk to or be with others which could be anyone from family member to neighbor, friend to a stranger, a person tends to be isolated socially. This is not a problem confined to old age alone. Even kids and young adults or grownups can be socially isolated. However, the problem is worse and most common among seniors. Social isolation is most common among seniors who are widowed, don’t have a family living with them, are physically immobile or suffer from any condition that prevents them from being sociable. Terminal diseases or being bed ridden would also facilitate social isolation.
Social Isolation Causes
As people age and retire, they no longer have the job that used to keep them busy. The professional interactions, which are also a form of social connect, don’t exist anymore. Kids move out and start their own families. One doesn’t get to socialize as conveniently as before, which could be due to many reasons, from financial challenges to physical ailments, lack of interest or unavailability of friends, family or anyone who an elderly can socialize with.
Many elderly people are widowed, they are seldom visited by their kids or grandkids, they often live in suburban homes or their old homes which are not in the busiest of or crowded neighborhoods and there is very little activity to partake in, either alone or in a group.
Symptoms of Social Isolation
The most obvious symptom of social isolation is the unwillingness of a senior to speak with people. A socially isolated senior would push people away, they wouldn’t want to interact with strangers, they will appear cold towards family and friends whenever they are together, they would be angry sporadically and for no obvious reason, they may get aggressive and might become a recluse to just confine themselves in their room or at one place, away from the social interactions.
Gauging Social Isolation
There are people who enjoy solitude. One must draw a distinction between loneliness and solitude. Furthermore, one must understand the difference between loneliness and social isolation. The latter is perpetual loneliness and eventual rejection of social relations.
Gauging social isolation is easy. Family members or friends need to ask themselves how often they visit and interact with their elderly, how many times they do something for the elderly or just do something together and if the senior is visibly happy or content. If a senior seems visibly sad, not just because of worsening health but because of lack of human or social connect, then it is undisputedly social isolation.
Caring to Prevent or Remedy Social Isolation
Social isolation can become chronic and it can become a progressing condition, worsening over time. The family and friends of an elderly must take timely steps to not just prevent but remedy social isolation. It is not an incurable problem.
The first step would be to ensure that the family or the immediate social circle gets together at least once a week or fortnight. Weekly lunches or dinners, spending weekends together or regular tea and snacks if possible can be enough. Spending a few hours every week can go a long way in prevention of social isolation among seniors.
Seniors can be an integral part of local communities, spend time indulging in activities of the church or be a member of local libraries. Any place that would allow some social interaction is a good place for seniors. There are volunteering programs for active seniors and peer groups for not so active seniors. There are clubs and various such initiatives, both at public institutions and by private groups, which can help seniors to overcome social isolation.
Today, it is possible for grownups to easily stay in touch with their parents and grandparents using video calls and multiparty conferences. Such initiatives should be taken more often than frequent to keep seniors happy. There is also the possibility of seniors going out on dates these days which can not only prevent or remedy social isolation but can help widowed or single seniors to find a good friend.