Growing Health Epidemic Hits Minnesota Seniors – What You Can Do For Your Aging Loved One

Social Isolation Effects Similar to Smoking 15 Cigarettes Per Day

Not obesity or smoking, but social isolation, according to Joel Theisen, RN, CEO of Lifesprk, is the number one issue we should be looking at for seniors ahead of heart conditions, diabetes, or even cancer.  The issue, highlighted recently in Home Health Care News, is gaining the attention of healthcare organizations who realize they must include combating social isolation into their models. These conversations provide a good starting point but they still focus on isolation being an issue for those living alone when in fact it affects seniors wherever they live and whomever they live with.

While most doctors are asking seniors about social isolation, the big issue is – what do they do with the information they learn?  And many home care providers do not methodically address combatting social isolation, that’s a big mistake when it comes to protecting health and independence. Providing social interactions between clients and caregivers alone is not enough.

The key is really finding what ‘sparks’ someone’s life – what gives them purpose, what is their reason to get up in the morning? Lifesprk client, Harriet, felt socially isolated – the root cause had nothing to do with age or physical illness, she missed the church she grew up in and was connected to. Once her Life Care Manager took her back, her spark returned and her health improved. Combatting social isolation is more than just connecting people with other people, we have to connect them to what gives their life meaning. That’s when we achieve the personal engagement that gives someone’s life a spark.

But can social isolation really affect health? “Loneliness and social isolation are absolutely connected to overall health,” Joel said. “Society is focused on giving everyone a pill to try to make them happy versus looking at the root cause. Our medical system is great at treating ailments of the body, but we need to engage with the soul and the heart. It’s really not that difficult to figure out and why. At Lifesprk, we put a registered nurse, our Life Care Managers, in charge of client’s care to not only manage their medical issues but also develop a life plan that makes sure seniors feel connected and engaged. Our proven results show this approach is working to reduce cost long-term,saving senior care dollars and increasing long-term wellbeing.”

AARP recently reported that ‘socially isolated older adults are more likely to have heart disease, infections, depression, and premature cognitive decline….significantly increasing the risk of death. In fact, one study has likened the detrimental health effects of isolation to those associated with smoking up to 15 cigarettes every day.’ That’s a significant health risk. “Even in Minnesota,” said Joel, “social isolation is becoming an epidemic.”   In an interview with KTSP’s medical expert, Dr. Archielle Georgiou, Joel pointed added that “over 30% of the seniors we serve have social isolation.”

It’s also a costly issue – those affected by social isolation cost Medicare an estimated $6.7 billion each year, that’s $1,608 more annually on each senior who is socially isolated, comparable with the cost of arthritis or high blood pressure.

How do you know if your aging loved one might be social isolated or feeling lonely? According to Joel, who is also a nurse, here are a few signs to look for:

  • Apathy
  • Dull look in their eyes
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of interest in doing things

 

Knowing the signs is a good start. Making sure your home care provider or medical professionals is actually combatting these signs is another issue. It’s important to ask questions about what they are doing to support seniors.

At Lifesprk, combatting social isolation is part of our model, it always has been – that’s the ‘sparking lives’ piece which is the cornerstone of our mission. “We’ve known for years that to truly support seniors in their quest to live the healthiest, most independent life, you have to look beyond the physical medical diagnosis of our ‘sick care’ system,” added Joel, “and instead focus on what makes them whole, that’s the ‘health care.’”

Questions or concerns your aging loved one might be struggling with social isolation? Call us for a free discovery consultation and we’ll help you come up with a plan that gets them re-engaged and back on track with living a sparked life.

We want to know, what have you witnessed in your older loved ones related to social isolation? Have you had a similar experience? What worked for you to help your loved one? Share on…