Loss of Community

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According to an AARP study, today’s socially-isolated older adults (age 65 and older) are likely to be sicker and experience even higher health care needs than older adults who retain their social connections. Also, like studies by Stanford and Harvard University’s found that Medicare spends an estimated $6.7 billion more each year on those older adults who have limited, to no social contact. About 20 percent of the older adult study participants were identified as socially isolated, which meant little contact with their adult children, other relatives, or friends. Those identified were more likely to be male, white, live in cities, and have lower incomes and wealth than those with active social links. Those acknowledged were also more likely to have depression, difficulties managing daily activities, and have at least five chronic medical conditions. However, even married couples were just as likely to be isolated as singles. The collective studies recognized that Medicare spent about $1,600-a-year more on older adults who are socially isolated than those who aren’t. They’re a third more likely to require care in a skilled nursing facility, perhaps because they could not be safely discharged to home after a hospitalization. While they were no more likely to be hospitalized, their stays were more expensive — also perhaps because they could not be discharged as quickly as others because they had no family or caregiver support to return to. More serious and concerning, at least a third was more likely to become deceased within six years, even after considering health, demographic and functional status. Nevertheless, the studies do not conclude that social isolation alone will cause people to become sicker.  It does suggest however that certain individuals are more isolated because they’re sicker. Either way, the study advises that if communities would do a better job identifying isolation and take appropriate steps to provide effective support systems for older adults who might be in need, communities could both improve their well-being and save Medicare a significant amount of expense. The studies also open important medical issues for those who remain in their homes rather than move to an older adult community. It’s clear that most older adults prefer to age in place, meaning in their home. Nonetheless, living alone can itself be isolating, especially for those with mobility restrictions, cognitive limitations, or who are unable to access transportation. Yet, there are some proven solutions. Older adult villages can provide important social connections through volunteer visits and other resources. Faith communities can also be an effective source of social support. Still, these organizations alone may have to work harder to maintain appropriate links as older adults in their communities become more-frail. Unfortunately for these organizations, far too often a serious lack of vital financial/personnel resources tend to impact accessibility of that much needed support. Another option might be moving to an older adult community. Some resist that idea for financial or other reasons. Yet, well-run older adult communities do create opportunities for residents to develop new friendships and have access to helpful activities. Yet, there’s no promise that such a move reduces isolation. Some older adults may remain alone in their apartments/homes even if opportunities for social interaction are available. Although, this option could help and shouldn’t be ignored. These studies indicate noteworthy levels of social isolation among older adults also carry an important lesson for the adult children of aging parents.  Getting to know one’s parents’, friends, and neighbors is also important. Noticing when conditions are shifting is also important for positive change to occur. If, for example, parents are getting out less, one may want to find out why and actively address the situation. As these studies propose, social isolation may not only be linked to depression or functional limitations, it may be tied to health issues that left unattended, may lead to more serious medical conditions.]]>

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