When was the last time you asked the seniors you serve about their loneliness? How about feelings of isolation? Few health or senior care professionals are even raising this topic, mostly because they don’t know what to do with it once they identify it. There’s no reimbursement for addressing loneliness and there’s no pill or exercise regimen to prescribe.
“As a result,” says Joel Theisen, RN, Founder & CEO of Lifesprk, “little is being done to address this critical issue. We have algorithms for high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, obesity and more, but where’s the algorithm for loneliness?” He notes that an increasing body of research shows that loneliness is not only twice as lethal as obesity, significantly raising the risk of premature death among seniors, but also contributes to ongoing health issues and hospital readmissions.
Theisen explains that addressing people’s feelings of isolation, what he calls ‘sparking lives,’ needs to be at the core of all our work caring for seniors and people in the second half of life. The first step in the Lifesprk Experience model is to discover what sparks someone’s life. He admits it is not always easy and can take time to build the rapport and relationship that will enable you to get to the point where you can discover the spark for one of your clients. However, he stresses, it is always worthwhile and more importantly, produces better outcomes for all – saving money, improving overall wellbeing, improving staff and client satisfaction, and reducing readmissions.
“It is one of the reasons we built our Lifesprk model the way we did. We realized that far too many of the people we see in the second half of life are on that roller coaster of crisis, and while health issues contribute there are other factors at play. Social support and feeling purpose in life are key elements of feeling sparked,” says Theisen. He calls sparking lives the antidote to loneliness. “When someone feels ‘sparked,’ that is, when a senior feels that they have purpose and are able to focus on things that are meaningful to them each day, we can immediately see a change in their wellbeing.”
So what can you do to begin to address this growing epidemic of social isolation? Here are few steps to get you started;
· Ask the question: We can’t begin to address the challenges of loneliness until we begin to measure it. It’s simple, costs nothing to ask, and can begin a meaningful dialogue with your clients.
· Identify resources that address social isolation and loneliness: Find the community resources that help people with loneliness, especially ones that address isolation on an ongoing basis. Look for resources that have built tools and practices that address loneliness into their ongoing practice versus ones that may do something ‘every once in a while.’
· Identify what is most meaningful to them: Call or email Lifesprk Navigation for a free Lifesprk navigation kit at 866-869-8770/ShineOn@lifesprk.com or check out our discovery assessment online.
· Connect your at-risk clients to support: If you find or suspect a senior you serve is at-risk for loneliness, connect them with some support. Sometimes the support is as simple as engaging the family in discussions on how to help the senior feel more connected.
· Call/email Lifesprk for a free Life Consultation: “At Lifesprk, we can get very creative in first discovering what will spark people, but also then how we address those issues of loneliness on an ongoing basis,” adds Theisen.
In fact, he explains that the support needed is often as individual as the person involved. One Lifesprk client was very teary and reluctant to talk about her feelings, and yet the Lifesprk team was able to determine the importance of faith in her life. They reconnected her with the church where she’d grown up. Her tears turned to joy at hearing the organ music she so loved again. Another client appeared ‘fine’ to all but was harboring emotional due to physical pain that was keeping her from her passion for painting. By understanding the emotional pain, the Lifesprk team was able to work with her doctors to better manage the physical pain so she could paint again.
Theisen stresses that there is story after story of these turn-arounds for people who were living with varying degrees of social isolation. It all starts with asking the question: do you feel lonely or socially isolated?
For more ideas on how you can address social isolation and loneliness for the seniors you serve, or for more information about Lifesprk services, call 952-345-8770 or email us.