February 9, 2012

USA: Help seniors avoid the isolation of aging

GREENWICH, Connecticut / Greenwich Citizen / Opinion / February 8, 2012

By Rebecca Lippel


It is no secret that the number of older adults is rising at a dramatic rate.
As baby boomers age, we begin to identify the many needs and services necessary to cater to this growing segment of the population. Roughly 11.3 million older adults live alone thus increasing their chances of becoming isolated.
The challenge with isolated seniors is identifying them in order to provide them assistance.
This is especially difficult in a suburban community where single family homes are more common.
In urban residential areas, such as apartment buildings, it is easier to identify who your neighbors are and who may be facing some limitations.
Seniors are very often isolated due to physical restrictions limiting their ability to transport out of their home.
Limited access to affordable and comfortable transportation may also contribute. As people age they often become more insecure about their vanity and how they may appear to others.
We become sensitive because our bodies have changed so much that we have almost become strangers to ourselves. Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common type of anxiety among older adults and may increase isolation. Lack of a social network, whether made up of friends or family, tends to be a challenge for aging individuals and studies have shown that the lack of a social network has a direct correlation to illness thus creating an additional strain for the individual in addition to the caregivers, if present.
The presence of dementia for an isolated senior is even more troubling. Those with various types of dementia go through daily challenges and often require round-the-clock care and attention. The illness may fluctuate day-by-day as may one's abilities and capacity. With the onslaught of seniors suffering from various types of dementia, a variety of resources, services and programs have been created.
Adult day care facilities often offer a separate program for those with Alzheimer's disease. These facilities offer day activities including meals and programming geared toward memory impairments. Senior centers, community centers and libraries will often tend to have programming fitting this need all of which providing an opportunity to leave the home and engage with others.
When we think about the needs of seniors we often think of transportation, access to medical care, trips to the grocery store and pharmacy and food delivery. However, many often do not consider the value of social interaction, which is equally significant to the well being of an aging adult.
There are many ways to help keep a loved one connected with the community despite limitations: Reach out to them frequently via phone, visiting or even email or social media to help make them feel connected. Inquire how many visitors or callers they may get on an average week. If it isn't many and you do not live local, research agencies that can offer a weekly companion visit or a reassurance phone call. Research local groups that cater to seniors and offer socialization and educational events. Make sure to look for something that meets the interests of the senior and include them, when possible, in the process of finding an activity or group.
Help set up a computer in the home and provide a basic tutorial so they may interact with family and friends through the internet.
Isolation among older adults is growing due to the general aging population growing at an astounding rate. While challenging, isolation can be lessened by being educated and getting involved in the senior's life to help improve and maintain their very important quality of life so they may age with dignity.
Rebecca Lippel is the manager of Family Centers' Friendly Connections senior outreach program.
© 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.
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