My assignment will focus on the isolation of the older person in Ireland today. I will be researching and investigating all aspects of these involving reasons, causes, affects and how we as a Society can assist or even alleviate this issue in Ireland. This topic is of particular interest to me due to my own personal circumstances growing up in rural Ireland with my grandparents and family and at present my own elderly parents. They are lucky in a sense that they have continued family support and we care for them on an on-going basis. This kind of family support alleviates isolation but unfortunately such support can be the exception rather than the rule.
In a recent study of elderly people living in Ireland the majority do not feel isolated or cut off but a significant minority approx. 50,000 have hardly any contact with others and are very isolated as a result.
A report from the “National Council on Ageing and Older People (NCAOP)” shows that as people get older they can have help from their families, neighbours and even friends. These people find themselves in some form of isolation for various reasons. Isolation in the elderly is usually involuntary but at the same time be self-imposed. People in this group are likely to be single or widowed women especially over the age of 80 and in poor health. They also tend to be less well educated – usually to primary school level only. They could find themselves in a very low social situation. Such factors contribute to making our elderly exposed to illness, personal crisis example death of spouse or loved one.
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On reading and researching the report it also shows and notes that other older people who are more likely to experience isolation are those who live in rented accommodation or those who live with relatives in rural areas. According to the findings, accessibility to transport is a ‘vital factor’ in facilitating good social contacts with family, friends and the community in general. As a result, people who have no access to transport report significantly higher levels of loneliness. Meanwhile those least likely to report high levels of loneliness include married people, those living in urban areas with access to public or private transport and those on higher levels of income. For the majority of older people (80%), their nearest relative lives within a five-mile radius. The member of their family that tends to provide the most support is an adult child, usually a daughter. Elderly people when asked will comment that ‘getting out’ as being a very important factor in facilitating social interaction. Those who were unable to get or be out independently said that this caused feelings of loneliness and isolation. Older women meanwhile were more likely than older men to report ‘social’ and ’emotional’ loneliness because of isolation.
Our elderly folks have many needs as they get to the end of their lives. Having a good amount of awareness about various needs and requirements of the elders, is extremely important for those people who have the responsibility of taking care of their aged family members like, their parents or relatives. Our elderly folks have serious needs be it Social, Finance, Housing, Transportation, Health, Nursing and in today’s environment Cultural.
Reasons for isolation:
There are many reasons for isolation in the elderly! Circumstances like no family contact or family rows. Nobody calls anymore and a fear of crime. Reasons of cannot function or be mobile anymore. People get negative and withdraw from social activities or human contact. Our older generation get frail and health declines as a result. Their usual contacts become absent or do not get involved anymore. They can suffer economically too even in today’s environment can lead to being alone and unable to cope.
Being unmarried or childlessness can be a cause for social isolation. Whether their child is deceased or they did not have children at all, the loneliness that comes from not having a child can cause social isolation.Retirement, which takes away a daily routine abruptly, and loss contact of fellow employees plus a death of close friends contribute to isolation of some kind. Bad financial circumstances can also add to isolation. No savings or having bad pensions to support their futures.
The sudden death of a loved one also adds to social isolation. For example, if an individual loses a spouse, they lose their social support. They now must find some other kind of support to help them through this fragile time. Studies have showed that widows that keep in contact with friends or relatives have better psychological health even if they find themselves in isolation.
As part of my investigation into this subject, I interviewed my father, 81 years, and his neighbour; 75 years (Bachelor) after my parents hosted the traditional House Stations Mass. I asked the question on reasons for isolation in the elderly and in addition to the usual ones mentioned earlier both men referred to the ‘Country Mobile Shop’, which no longer exists, and the decision of An Post to place post boxes at top of rural roads and driveways. Both of these examples can lead to isolation situations in our Elderly people who love conversations, gossip, and above all social contact. In my youth, I was a member of the Legion of Mary and one of our important roles was Visitation of the Elderly in the Parish. These people loved the visits which could last for hours. They thrived in contact and conversations which was at that time weekly. We did not realise it then but we found ourselves in a Carer role with our elderly neighbours. They would have confidence in their younger visitors and would unwind with cups of tea, advice, stories, songs, poetry and even teach us to card play.
Effects of isolation:
One of the greatest effects of isolation in the elderly is loneliness and a lot of our older people are suffering from loneliness these days. Loneliness is a major problem that affects older people. Folks in their seventies and beyond have issues of loneliness more so than their younger counterparts do. Types of loneliness-connected problems are far worse today than they were back in the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s. Loneliness is not a new issue. Older folks of ages and nationalities today are worse off. It affects all people but more affected are the elderly.
People of all ages and nationalities face it from time to time. While loneliness can affect all people, the older people are the worst affected. Part of this problem can be attributed to the rise of nuclear families. By such reference I mean Families or elementary families consisting of a pair of adults and their children. Families in Ireland and all over the world are becoming smaller and smaller. While youngsters who spend a considerable part of their away from home have plenty of opportunities to socialize, their older parents and grandparents have few outing options which severely limit their chances of interacting with other people. To overcome loneliness older people must keep themselves engaged in meaningful activities. They can go for a walk in the morning or in the evening. It will give them physical exercise. It will also give them an opportunity to meet and interact with other people. They can join clubs or they can pursue other interests. By keeping active they constantly engaged in something or other they can overcome loneliness and isolation. Also where possible when they are physically fit they will feel better about themselves and that will add a whole new layer of meaning to their lives.
Another serious effect of isolation is depression and despair. These people as a result of depression and despair acquire ill health and have a bad quality of live due to their illness
Depression and despair are serious effects of isolation and can lead to ill health amongst our elderly.
Conclusion / Recommendations
The HSE despite financial constraints and government cut backs is a huge and vital organisation in caring for our elderly. Healthy elderly people who find themselves in isolation must have access to services and supports. Day care centres for example are important for the isolated elderly as it provides them with access to facilities such as contact with people, activities of dining, bingo, card playing, and adult learning. Home Help provision is another aspect of reducing isolation in the elderly. This involves helping with good housekeeping. There are a number of aspects that are involved in taking care of elderly or aged people. Having a good amount of awareness about various needs and requirements of the elders, is extremely important for those people who have the responsibility of taking care of their aged family members like, their parents or relatives. This type of assistance and help that elderly people commonly require, in addition to a few elderly special needs is very crucial in lower or alleviating isolation. The HSE try to encourage and provide age-friendly initiatives for all seniors, regardless of their location. Specifically, they seek to improve transportation, housing, social inclusion, community support and health services. In addition, paying attention to the person who is socially isolated can make a difference. Taking a day to spend time with someone can change his or her perspective on life. Care Support organisations like Comfort Keepers that I have started to work for are also vital components in helping to reduce isolation of elderly people. A recent client of mine resides in the last house of a Parish and also the last house of his specific village road so our Health Care Support roles and visits are such a great asset towards reducing isolation. As a HCA my involvement whether it’s as an employee or a family support member is a crucial role for the future.
References / Bibliography:
Interview & Work Case Study Client.
Cacioppo, J (2008), Loneliness, Human Nature and the need for Social Connection.
New York: W.W.Norton
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