We’ve all had times when we desperately need our own space…time to ourselves, just ourselves. And it’s good to retreat periodically from the frenetic work pace, the demands of family or just the congestion of living in the 21st century. But for older adults, being alone can become their way of life with the loss of friends or a life mate, no longer being employed, perhaps unable to move easily about, a lapsed driver’s license…and life becomes very, very small when it is just one.
It’s a bigger problem than many people may think. The National Institutes of Health estimate that 28 percent of older adults live alone; that’s nearly 14 million people on their own. Living alone can lead to depression, poor self-care and ultimately an exacerbation of pretty much every other chronic condition that a person can have. A 2010 study found that socially-isolated older adults were 509% more likely to die prematurely. Being alone too much can contribute to other health issues, so much so that some health insurers are developing more comprehensive and holistic models for caring for our older adults.
One of the major insurers of Medicare Advantage programs that will offer “enhanced” care, and they have come up with a model that can be imitated by all of us who may be caregivers to and older loved one. We all may look in on mom or dad, make a regular call or accompany our older loved one to their physician office visits, but there is more you can do. Consider:
- Checking your loved one’s refrigerator for variety of food as well as expired products. Food insecurity is one of the big threats to health and well-being among older adults.
- Ask about your older loved one’s friendship network, and get specific. Think about how often you make connections – probably daily – and help your loved one to do the same….be creative.
- Be sensitive particularly to hospital discharges when an older loved one will be lest ambulatory. Help them even get to a “silver slippers” program at a local gym or to respite care so that they not only physically recover, but also socially recover.
- Use tech. A Miami-based company called Papa connects older adults with local college volunteers that they sometimes refer to as “grandkids on demand.” Check it out to see if a campus near your older loved one can offer that support.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.