Recently, I went to help out a friend who had a double mastectomy. I had to fly out of Canada to the U.S. I realized that getting help from people around us at our age is difficult. Most of our friends also have health issues, If not them, their spouses. A number no longer drives.
At her age of 77, it is difficult to find friends and family who could be with her as most are no longer able, even if they want to help. I saw how much social isolation is a startling reality among many Seniors.
I also clearly saw why social isolation is a serious concern among seniors. I saw in my friends’ circle the reasons why they live an isolated existence:
- Lack of Mobility. A number no longer drives and can’t move around quickly.
- Losing a spouse, family, and friends can lead to isolation. Much of the news we get every morning is about someone in our circle passing on or having health problems.
- Retirement. When we retire, we lose not only our contacts but also our sense of purpose and identity. I asked a friend why she continues working when there’s no need for it. She replied that work gives her a reason to get up and dress up. Otherwise, many retirees stay in their pyjamas most of the day.
- Health problems. Some of us may have mini-strokes, cancer, or other illnesses and, thus, avoid many social interactions.
- Lack of access to transportation. As we age, our confidence diminishes, so we hesitate to drive. Some of us got used to having our spouses drive us, and when they pass on or become unable to do so, we find it difficult to attend social events.
- Negativism. In several cultures, families are protective of seniors. They are discouraged from going out on their own. They need a companion each time they go out, which limits their attendance to social activities or even just visiting their friends or doing things they enjoy.
Negative consequences often follow as more isolation occurs in a Senior’s life. These include:
- Depression and Anxiety. In the absence of social interaction, Seniors tend to focus on themselves, and issues around health make them feel sad and concerned. Social activities tend to help them forget whatever discomfort they feel.
- Loneliness. Seniors who live alone often feel lonely. There are only enough soap operas to keep them entertained.
- Cognitive Decline. The lack of interaction limits the use of our mental faculties. Our forgetfulness becomes more intense, and our capacity to do things erodes. Some of my friends have driving issues and need more reminders of familiar routes. Even playing games is less helpful. Interacting with friends engages and stimulates our mental faculties.
- Increased risks of health problems. Being alone and lonely leads to heart issues and mental breakdown.
We must take this issue of social isolation among seniors seriously. There are things we can do to address this issue of social interaction:
- Sharing Accommodation. In some societies, Seniors live with their families. Our friends discussed it with their kids and divided the year between two families. In many Asian cultures, unmarried or widowed aunts and uncles live with families. Their presence is a big help in the kids’ development process. They often help cook or be present when the kids come home from school.
- Providing transportation. Friends and family can do this to enable Seniors in their families to attend social events.
- Becoming part of a group. Seniors can join a club, take a class in a community or senior center near them, or volunteer for important causes.
- Introducing them to active Seniors defying age-old prejudices so they have models of what is possible.
- Living in age-friendly communities. If not, create one. You can do much to engage your neighbourhood in becoming friendly and supportive of Seniors.
- Hiring caregivers who can be with them and provide them with the company and support necessary. Someone who can drive and have a license is a big help.
With a bit of concern, this problem need not be serious. Individuals and communities can help make Seniors in our neighbourhood less socially isolated and more engaged. It is a concern that we can all address.