Did you know that social isolation and loneliness are considered serious health risks in the older population? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 people aged 45 and above feel lonely, and 1 in 4 people aged 65 and above are socially isolated. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic worsened the problem as the government issued lockdowns and restrictions.
When the pandemic was at its peak, many residents and patients of long-term care facilities suffered. Family visits were discouraged. Even outdoor walks were not allowed. Many patients with health conditions were to stay home. But with or without the pandemic, older people still could not socialize.
What is social isolation?
Being socially isolated is having very few, limited, or zero interactions with other people. As a result, the person who has no connection with the outside world cannot hold meaningful relationships. It happens when patients choose to be left alone or unintentionally when circumstances prevent them from socializing with others. In both cases, it is harmful, especially if it goes on for a long time.
Isolation is particularly harsh to older patients. In their advanced age, these patients have already experienced the death of many of their loved ones and their friends. Their children often already live a life of their own, sometimes living too far away to visit frequently. Older people also tend to have health conditions that prevent them from socializing.
Patients who have no social connections have a 50% risk of having dementia, 32% of developing a stroke, and four times likely to die if they have heart failure. Because of the harmful effects of isolation and the large number of people affected, it is considered a public health crisis.
The role of caregivers to prevent or decrease the effect of social isolation
Caregivers like you are the perfect instrument to prevent patients from feeling and being alone. Here are ways you can help:
1. Be sincere.
Even a short interaction can have a profound impact if you show sincerity. When you work with a heart, your actions will show it. Your face and your body language will express it.
People have an instinct to appreciate good and honest ways, and they will gravitate towards you when you are genuinely concerned about their welfare.
2. Provide companionship.
Patients who feel isolated and lonely need to feel your presence. You must be physically present to attend to their needs and listen to them when they want someone to talk to.
You can also help patients do the things they want. In this situation, you may be the only person they interact with during the day, so make the most out of your duty hours.
3. Hold meaningful conversations.
Some patients may feel reluctant to start a conversation. If your patient is shy or uninterested, you may initiate the talk by asking open-ended questions. Make it more specific, more about them. Ask how their children are doing. Check the progress of a hobby. For example, if they are into art, know what inspired them.
You may also encourage them to talk about their feelings. Keep the conversation flowing and note important details. In this way, it is easier to connect with them in your next interaction.
4. Use therapeutic touch.
People who are socially isolated crave physical connection. Patting them on the shoulder and holding their hands are part of compassionate care and show that you are genuinely concerned.
5. Help them stay connected.
Encourage family and friends to visit more frequently. If visitation is difficult, you can still help patients connect with their family and friends by taking advantage of technology. Assist them in using gadgets to send emails, do voice and video calls, and use social media platforms.
6. Refer to a support network.
You may seek your agency's help to point your patient to the right group of people who share similar problems and interests with your patient.
Support groups offer information and strategies to solve problems. They also encourage members to share personal struggles and successes. This network of helpful people reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Social isolation in older people leads to loneliness and other serious health issues. Caregivers can help patients interact meaningfully and provide opportunities to mingle with others.
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