Isolation and Loneliness in older adults

Olubunmi Sodade

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What is Isolation and Loneliness?

Isolation is a condition of being separated from people, places or engagements deliberately or due to circumstances beyond ones control. According to the National Council on Aging and other studies on aging, a huge percentage of adults over 65 are living in social or geographical isolation or both which is becoming a health epidemic amongst the older community.

Loneliness is more about perception or sad feeling of being alone even when surrounded by people. It is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connection or communication with other people, both in the present and extending into the future.

Isolation and loneliness feed off each other causing issues such as chronic illnesses, depression, low quality of life and untimely death.

Triggers

A multiple fold of circumstances and events cause isolation and loneliness. Usually a complex result of poor physical and mental health, separation of the family unit especially with immigration on the rise, shrinking size of the family or social network, major life events such as a loss, layoff or retirement, poor access to information and resources, poorly designed communities, belonging to an underrepresented population, nonexistent or limited government policies towards the aged. In many cases, these causes overlap and interact in ways that create a greater degree of isolation and loneliness.

Scare allocation of resources at the different levels of government, high unemployment rate, dwindling healthcare access, increasing poverty levels, selfish ambition and corruption in the public and private sectors are drivers to the increasing social issues that manifest in the older community.

Interventions

Deliberate intervention by government and non-governmental agencies to counter socioeconomic isolation and loneliness is paramount. Targeted individual and community programmes and policies that drive engagement should be developed and implemented.

Infrastructural development and town planning should incorporate the aging community at the developmental stages. Access to transportation, health care and financial assistance will impact the wellbeing of the age group and give them reasons to participate in societal activities for a very long time.

Arranging peer-to-peer companionship, mixed age or mixed gender companionship are ways to implement one on one intervention. Direct intervention such as the one on one strategy facilitates the monitoring of the actual impact on the reduction of isolation and loneliness.

Invitation and engagement of older adults in social events, community activities such as drama groups/volunteering, political engagement and neighborhood outreach should be encouraged and rewarded.

There are additional intervention strategies that are available, however a deep culture of caring for the older citizens must be developed within our society by drilling caring values for senior citizens through deliberate and targeted advocacy.

The corporate sector should also be involved in promoting schemes, products and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that directly impact the lives of those vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation.

At NARP50PLUS, our mandate is to disrupt aging by providing a platform to address issue that plague aging and create a community with a voice loud enough to bring about change. We strongly believe that our older citizens should live life with pride and dignity.

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