For some, the winter months are a time to slow down and spend more time at home. For many older adults, however, the lack of social interaction during the winter months can lead to isolation, loneliness and health issues that can affect their overall well being.
We often think of the elderly as residing with family, in a senior living community or in other shared-housing situations, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the probability of living alone increases with age. For women, the likelihood of living alone at ages 65–74 is 32 percent and increases to 57 percent for those aged 85 and older.
Beyond that, for the centenarians, seniors who are aged 100 or older, the number is astonishingly high, with roughly one-third of them living alone.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of deaths is higher in the winter months than any other season, especially among our seniors over 80. As this group of older adults is getting larger, more deaths are being recorded during this time of year. This is especially prevalent for our seniors who have pre-existing health conditions.
Another large factor is the flu, with 50–70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations and 70–90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occurring in those 65 or older each year.
Because of this, we see many of our seniors with increased anxiety due to fear of becoming sick, which results in isolation to avoid encountering anyone that may be sick.
At Senior Life Solutions, we can help our patients stay active when we:
• Talk about the risk factors
• Remind them of the importance in attending groups
• Talk about proper hand hygiene and ways to help avoid sickness without self-isolating
• Create a plan for bad weather, sickness and during the holidays
We have ways of keeping people engaged and involved through the winter:
• We are doing check-ins with our patients during severe weather.
• We are monitoring the emotional well being of our patients and monitoring the physical health by checking vitals each group day.
• We are contacting the patient’s physician if we identify any concerns.
• We are encouraging group attendance.
We also help identify older adults at risk when we:
• Talk to physicians and medical staff about identifying patients at risk
• Talk with hospital departments about how to identify family, friends, neighbors and patients at risk
• Speak with long-term care facilities, assisted livings, home health and health departments about how to identify seniors at risk
• Speak at senior centers, civic organizations, police departments and other speaking opportunities about risk factors during the winter months
As author Ken Poirot said, “No one cares until someone cares. Be that one!” Let’s be the one to find the lonely. Let’s be the one to help bring the quality of life back into someone’s life. Let’s be the one not to give up. Let’s be the one to show our seniors they are seen, they are heard, and they are not forgotten. Be that one!
For more information about the Senior Life Solutions programs as the Dallas County Hospital, call 515-465-7580.
Melissa Martin is the program development director at Senior Life Solutions.