Social isolation was a problem affecting one in three Australians even before this term became commonplace through COVID-19. With nearly seven billion people on our planet, it’s hard to accept that people are feeling alone, disconnected and isolated. Vulnerable Australian’s, such as our ageing and the disabled are feeling the full force of these impacts on their health. Australia is known as one of the friendliest and easiest countries to live in, so why are people in their senior years or the disabled often living in social isolation? More and more people are choosing to say no to residential aged care, and to remain at home for as long as their health allows. In this new COVIDnormal, it’s these people that our communities need to build an awareness for to help them avoid social isolation.
Social isolation is one of the most important topics in aged care today. The Australian Psychological Society states ‘loneliness is a feeling of distress people experience when their social relations are not the way they would like’. Our cities are becoming more orientated towards younger people, paced by fast, pressured lifestyles, which often alienate the elderly from communities they have called home for decades.
What leads to social isolation?
There are many complex reasons that can lead to people living in our communities under isolated or withdrawn circumstances. Things that may affect this as we age include:
- Mobility changes and restrictions: things beyond our control we may be the cause of limitations to our abilities to move with ease. This can bring on fear in leaving the home and even feeling unsafe in our own home. We may no longer be able to be out in the community or doing what we’ve always loved. This could include no longer driving, local bus routes changing or friends and family who used to assist no longer able to.
- Increased fatigue and exhaustion: our health and fitness changes may mean we no longer feel we have the energy to head out into the community like we used to, keeping us restricted and homebound.
- Decline in emotional wellbeing: ageing can bring on its own depression. Someone who may have been social and outgoing throughout life, may now be depressed and withdrawn, no longer having the confidence to be out among people.
- Change of routine: this could be sudden or gradual. l Routine gives us solid support. When we lose the activities that keep us stable, it is easy to withdraw and disconnect. Changes may include no longer having regular catch-ups with friends or colleagues, friendly neighbours moving out of the local area, or the closure of familiar shops and services making the neighbourhood feel foreign. All such things pose challenges through change and, as we age, can very easily alienate us.
- Financial limitations: life has now become very expensive. As we age it’s only natural to feel concerned about finances. Aged care and support may seem out of reach. We may feel we no longer have the financial capacity to do the things we used to love and enjoy, like share lunch with a friend or go to the pictures or a show.
- Changes in our community participation: leaving work is one of the big initiators in shifting how we engage and interact with the community around us. For some, this can have a detrimental impact as life’s purpose changes. We are no longer spending days with long-time friends and work colleagues or visiting other facilities and services that were a part of our work routine.
Social isolation is very hard to address alone. Successful interventions and strategies come through society, the community and people around us. We’ve seen this firsthand as new creative and inclusive strategies have begun to surface. These interventionist strategies are vital at helping people with in home aged care and support, before crisis sets in.
One such program is One Good Street founded in Melbourne in 2018 by local clinician Matiu Bush. One Good Street addresses social isolation through a new social networking website. People connect on the platform via their street networks and are then encouraged to engage, reach out and cultivate awareness of those in their street who are likely candidates for social isolation. Once a percentage of the street has signed up, the street is highlighted on Google maps as a heat map, noting it as a positive place to age, so there’s motivation to get as many on board as possible. It’s one of many new exciting initiatives that are bringing communities closer together and assisting those living at home to feel a part of it, while getting the aged care and support they need.
Communities are welcoming more positive initiatives in aged care helping to make an impact to end social isolation. New programs are popping like the Ride to End Loneliness, which pairs older people with a cyclist to enjoy a session riding around the neighbourhood. The bikes are purpose fit with a buggy seat at the front for the passenger to enjoy in comfort.
Casserole Clubs are another great program popping up in our communities as a simple and friendly way to share a neighbour–made meal. Unlike Meals on Wheels, where the person is left to eat alone, you stay and share your meal with your neighbour, simultaneously enjoying conversation and company.
Having someone call in on a regular basis could quite possibly be a life saver for someone living alone. Not only is it an accessible way to maintain connection and avoid social isolation, but it keeps people engaged in the community that they know and love. Whether it be in times of need, or for a lighthearted chat over a cuppa, a friendly visitor can make an immense impact on someone’s health. These are all vital pieces in a complex puzzle to ensure ageing in place is a happy, positive time.
If this has raised any concerns for you, please contact your nearest Pearl Home Care office for a no obligation, in home aged care assessment.