One is the Loneliest Number: Combating Senior Isolation

Part 2: Restoring community

Chronic loneliness can be dangerous. As we explored in our previous blog, it has been linked to a host of health hazards—from cognitive decline and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias (ADRD) to hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. To combat the loneliness epidemic, innovators in senior care are taking new approaches to diagnosing and treating social isolation, just as they would a physical condition.

Leaving loneliness behind

“Myths about senior housing abound,” says Tamara Lynn Meadows, RN-BC, divisional director of clinical operations in Oklahoma at StoneGate Senior Living, a leading provider of senior living services in Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma. “As a result, many older adults fear leaving the comfort of their own home for what they perceive to be ‘the bad nursing home.’ Despite their loneliness—and even inability to maintain their home—they prefer the known to the unknown.”

Meadows shares the story of her brother-in-law, Philip, who found happiness and a new enriched life at Tuscany Village Nursing Center in Oklahoma City, a Stonegate managed facility. “Philip has cerebral palsy, bipolar disorder, and several other physical challenges,” she explains. “For years, he lived independently in his own home or apartment, he worked mornings at a restaurant washing dishes, and was managing fine. Then, shortly after he turned 50, he started having emotional problems, to the point of psychosis and suicidal ideations. The loneliness he experienced living by himself was so unhealthy that his physician suggested he might want to consider a nursing facility or residential care.

“Philip agreed to the move and has lived at Tuscany for the past four years. Staff there have provided every opportunity to help Philip stay connected and active through person-centered care, as opposed to what we think of as traditional nursing home care.”

“Philip has truly blossomed in his new life. In the first month alone, he did more than he had in five years. His family visits often and takes him to church and other outings. He hops on a city bus for the disabled to visit his former colleagues at the restaurant where he worked, giving him a sense of independence while boosting his sense of belonging. He’s gotten in touch on Facebook with old high school friends and takes trips with them. The move to Tuscany—and the door it opened for him to reengage in community—truly saved his life.”

Leveraging options in senior housing

The perception of senior housing is rapidly changing, Meadows notes, from a “dying place” to a “living place.” Community living can relieve the isolation that so often leads to loneliness. “From independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing facilities, seniors have daily opportunities for social connection. StoneGate facilities, for example, offer an array of activities and outings. Finding the right senior care facility where relationships can be built, community enjoyed, and new purpose found can be a viable antidote to loneliness.”

“Over the past decade, assisted living communities have multiplied. Every effort is being made to create a homelike, active environment. Independent living communities are also proliferating, with a focus on providing a relaxed, country-club-like experience.
Social media has been a key conduit for changing public perceptions, she notes. “Facebook and other venues are getting the word out that senior living can be not only a venue to receive care but also a place to have fun and connect.”

Meadows indicates that StoneGate is an innovator in creating vibrant events and wellness programs for all residents. Special programs for those with depression or anxiety, such as Comfort and Life Memory, or CALMTM, and Music & Memory™, offer connection through aromatherapy and personalized music.

Special initiatives are in place to help spot lonely residents. For example, several StoneGate facilities provide “Angel Rounds” and “Ambassador Rounds,” where staff members and managers look after seniors who may be at risk of isolation. A manager is also on duty in the dining room, keeping an eye out for residents who may be missing meals or eating alone. Each facility also has a contract in place with a mental health-counseling group and a consulting psychiatrist who can help residents address emotional and mental health needs.

“We believe that listening to our residents, striving to understand their unique needs, and being ever vigilant for signs of social isolation is integral to delivering the best care.”

Individualized care plans can help reduce the feeling of disconnection seniors might experience while in many healthcare settings. Learn more.