senior isolation


(Reprinted from Sixty and Me)

According to the AARP, 51 percent of people over 75 live alone, facing senior isolation. That’s 15 million people in the U.S., including 27 percent over 65. Of those numbers, 26 percent face an increased risk of death due to subjective feeling of loneliness.

Consider the poignant story from China of senior isolation victim Han Zicheng as told in the Washington Post:

Han posted a note in a bus shelter. According to the Post, the headline read: “Looking for someone to adopt me.” The text that followed said: “Lonely old man in his 80s. Strong-bodied. Can shop, cook, and take care of himself. No chronic illness.”

A woman saw the note and posted it on social media. He received extensive media coverage but, unfortunately, died before anyone could help – his death mostly unnoticed, his adoption just a dream.

Carol Marak, an expert in senior isolation, calls these people “elder orphans.” Isolation can lead to poor physical and mental health as well as thoughts of suicide – thoughts Han had had as he desperately sought companionship.

A Rush University study showed that housebound seniors are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as more active individuals.

I spoke recently on the Charlotte Today Show about some of the things we all can do to help solo agers.

Use Social Technology

There are people who simply cannot leave their homes. So, socialization must come to them. Certainly, we need more intergenerational programs in the community, but older people have a great capacity to learn.

My late mom knew how to use an iPad and was on Facebook. Organizations like Senior Net provide classes to older and disadvantaged populations. Tools like Skype and Zoom can help people connect with others.

They not only can connect an older person with family, but they could just as well be used for the charity they volunteer for or a board they serve on. This way, while their physical involvement is limited, their knowledge and input are useful.

Find People Who Are Interested in the Things You Are

Sites like meetup.com can connect you with people who share your interests. Get involved in the arts if that is your thing. Go out and sing karaoke with friends! Take an acting class – any activity you enjoy will help you socialize with others.

Meet Through a Charity Connection

Go to the Charity Walks Blog and find causes you can adopt that meet your values. You will then find other like-minded people too!

Find a Buddy!

Home sharing is a growing phenomenon. Sometimes it takes the form of simply renting a bedroom to someone in your home. Ideally, the home sharer helps with specified tasks, which could include shopping, preparing meals, walking the dog, and gardening.

Mutual support and companionship lie at the heart of home sharing.

Emulate the Adopt an Elder Foundation in California, which provides financial and advocacy assistance to low-income elders, thus allowing them to maintain independence and quality of life.

In my area of Charlotte, North Carolina, Love Inc helps congregations in forming one or more LINC (Love In the Name of Christ) teams.

A team is a group of six to 12 individuals who agree to provide certain types of services such as transportation, grocery shopping, yard work, house cleaning, visitation, meal preparation, and telephone contact.

Check out Angela Bronson’s buddy program in Los Angeles. Once a month, her third-grade students visit residents in the Jewish Home for the Aging where they interview and write a short biography on the life of their elderly buddy.

Considering that 19 percent of women ages 40 to 45 have no children, you quickly realize that this problem can continue for generations. So, it’s best to be prepared sooner than later. Help an older person now and see that favor returned as you age too!

Do you have an elderly relative or friend who lives on their own? What do they do to stay connected with the world? How do you help them? Do you know of any local organizations that help older people who live solo? Please help start the conversation.

Let’s Have a Conversation!