Social isolation is a collective term given to individuals who lead lonely life away from other people. It can be lack of companionship, contact or communication with other people. It can be due to unavoidable circumstances like bereavement, personal choice or even health conditions. Social isolation can occur to all age groups right from child hood to old age. However, statistics have shown that old individuals are more prone to social isolation than the younger generations (Jerrome & Wenger 1999).
Situations or conditions that can lead an older adult into social isolation
The following five elements have been identified as the leading conditions or situations that make an old adult become socially isolated. Possible interventions have also been highlighted.
As individuals age they give up most of their roles to younger generations. Thus the activities that they have been doing all their lives become alienated from them. This is the beginning of old people’s woes because it means they become separated from colleagues, friends and relatives and go home. The only contact at home may be immediate family members.
Possible intervention for this cause is to try as much as possible to include the older people in their respective roles in as much as they may have resigned or retired. For instance we can give the roles that don’t require much time and effort e.g. being a chairperson of a company, organization or even a social club that they were engaged in (Barry, 2002).
Senior persons tend to have a lot of health complications. This is mainly due to weak immune systems, reduced body activity, digestion problems, poor diets and other challenges. This in return makes it hard or even impossible altogether for them to sustain any meaningful relationships. Thus possibility of being exposed to social isolation becomes real.
Whilst this is a very hard condition to deal with, all efforts should first be directed towards alleviating their health status. Thus medical attention and care should be the first remedy. The second intervention can be taking them to elderly people’s homes where they can get company of their peers (Barry, 2002).
Perhaps this is the biggest culprit of why old people are exposed to social isolation. Studies have shown that social cohesion is reducing as time goes by. This is more so prevalent in the 21st century due to demographic shifts. People have cut off links with extended family ties and preferred to stay alone or in nuclear families. So if in an individual’s life he/she only spent time with spouse and children what happens for instance if children were girls and they are married off and one of the spouse is dead? The answer is simple – inevitable loneliness.
The best way to address this condition is to promote social cohesion and integration right from an individual to extended family of grand parents. This way social scope of any particular person becomes wide and perhaps instances of loneliness will not even arise. This is can be evidenced from the following fact; that in New York city approximately 32% of adults live alone, 20% of blacks in US live alone while less than 7% of blacks in Africa reported to live alone! This is directly attributed to the fact that Africans value social integration e.g. extended family set ups.
Aging of the baby boom
In this 21st century baby boomers are expected to experience social isolation than ever before. This is mainly due to weakened family set ups, high divorce rates, fewer children and less emotional support.
The only intervention in this case is encouraging all those factors that lead to stronger family set ups whilst discouraging those factors that are deemed to weaken families like divorce (Godfrey & Denby, 2004).
Poverty and homelessness
Although not so directly related to instances of social isolation, poverty can also be cited as a contributing factor to social isolation. It can be said to be a causative agent to other conditions like homelessness, bad health may be due to poor diet, isolation from friends etc.
The possible intervention in this scenario is to take them to the elderly homes if they don’t have homes. If they have their own homes then they should be provided with the most basic things like food, medication and clothing. Government can also intervene by giving them financial support (Jerrome & Wenger 1999).
What the nurse can do to assist the client
The first and widely used intervention is selecting, training and supporting facilitators and care givers in this process. Perhaps this is best because elderly people need specialized attention which the nurse may not be able to provide. This will encourage social cohesion, participation and feeling of togetherness. The second method is to give them specialized medical attention owing to their deteriorating medical condition. Thirdly nurses can make once in a while home visits and or give them telephone calls. This will not only make the aged feel loved but also feel important. Lastly the nurse can give the client emotional and psychological support. This is if the nurse feels that the isolation is coming from mental challenges.
Whereas there are many possible interventions that a nurse can do to assist the client, there is no single method that is perfect in itself. Furthermore each client has his/her own unique needs. Therefore it is up to the nurse to asses each case independently and choose from all the available alternatives which is most suitable for his/her client. Sometimes a combination of one or more is advisable (Godfrey & Denby, 2004).
Barry, B., (2002). Social Exclusion, Social Isolation, and the Distribution of Income. London: Oxford University Press.
Godfrey, M & Denby, T., (2004). Depression and older people: towards securing well-being in later Life, 2nd edition. New York: The Policy Press.
Jerrome, D & Wenger, C. (1999). ‘Stability and change in late life friendships: Ageing and Society. London; PrenticeHall,19 (6):661–76.