Social isolation among seniors is now a real public health issue and, more broadly, for our society when we know that one in three seniors lives alone in Quebec. Social isolation can have serious consequences on psychological health, but also on physical health. It is therefore important to prevent it, but it is also important to be aware of the factors that cause it and the resources that exist to prevent it and to get out of it.
Social isolation: facts and figures
The National Seniors Council, which advises the Canadian government on important issues related to the health and realities of our seniors, defined social isolation as “having little contact and low quality contacts with others. However, in Quebec, one in three seniors have no contact with a family member in the course of a week, while one in five seniors has no close friends.
More and more studies show the issue as a public health problem. Indeed, experts conducted a review of 70 studies on the subject, concluding that social isolation is associated with a 30% increased risk of premature death. Thus, it would represent an equivalent health risk as obesity and smoking….
In concrete terms, social isolation among seniors leads to an increased risk of:
- Suffer from cardiovascular diseases;
- Develop nutritional deficiencies;
- Suffering from depression or anxiety;
- See their physical condition deteriorate (immune system, sleep quality, energy level, etc.).
Thus, social isolation has a direct impact on the quality of life of seniors facing it, hence the importance of protecting themselves.
Who are the seniors at risk?
Social isolation is a complex and multifactorial concept. People of all ages can cope with this phenomenon and suffer its consequences. Nevertheless, seniors are the group most at risk because of the changes and upheavals that often occur at this stage of life.
Thus, years in either of these situations have an increased risk of suffering from social isolation:
- People who live alone;
- People with low incomes;
- People who live in remote areas;
- Seniors with cognitive diseases (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other types of dementia);
- Seniors with health problems or reduced mobility.
In short, several factors can be at the root of social isolation, and it is often caused by a combination of these: death of the spouse, relocation of children, illness, loss of mobility, etc.
Fighting social isolation
It is important to understand that social isolation is a phenomenon that must be prevented and can be reversed. Indeed, several means must be put in place for a senior who is at risk of suffering from isolation. As relatives of seniors, we all have an important role to play in preventing this phenomenon. Here are some relevant ways to prevent social isolation:
- More frequent visits from relatives;
- Enrolment in seniors’ support groups, community programs;
- Participation in courses specifically designed for seniors: sports activities, courses on the use of technology, creative activities, etc.
- Volunteer involvement;
- Cohabitation with other seniors, moving to a seniors’ residence;
- Cohabitation with a pet;
- Meetings with community workers who can advise seniors to avoid or overcome isolation.
Clinique GO™’s mobile geriatric services
Clinique GO™’s mobile team offers a wide range of geriatric services. Many of our professionals can therefore work with seniors to counter the effects of aging and fight social isolation. They can travel directly to their clients’ homes, whether it is a private home or a seniors’ residence. This represents a major asset for the intervention of our professionals, who can then fully understand the situation of the senior, the resources he uses and to which he has access.
Among the professionals in our team who can intervene in a context of isolation are social workers, who are qualified to analyze and understand a person’s complex social situation. These professionals are then able to understand the factors that contribute to isolation, and then refer their clients to the right resources to help them cope and avoid the consequences for their health! Our kinesiologists can also help seniors maintain sufficient physical fitness, taking into consideration the illnesses they suffer from, to allow them to continue the social activities that are important to them.