The Grand Challenge for Social Work has identified that social isolation can have a significant impact on an individual’s overall sense of health and wellbeing (1). There have been numerous studies applied to this concern by organizations like AARP, WHO, and NIH to bring awareness to the social work profession to encourage the development of new strategies, in addressing a serious problem associated with aging populations lacking family and community group supports.
Identifying the Need
Ellie is an 87-year-old- Female added to my caseload a little over a year ago. I was befuddled by why she was referred to my program because she did not meet criteria. The medical practice and her primary care physician, however, thought it was necessary for me to be involved with Ellie because she was alone and dying from colon cancer. I had no idea what services I could offer to this patient. I met with Ellie at her small and neat single-wide trailer and began to address the checklist of needs necessary to keep her safe and comfortable inside her home. My relationship with Ellie grew into a friendship and as I became more aware of her daily routine, consisting of television and talk-radio, it became apparent within a month of weekly visits that Ellie was socially isolated and incredibly lonely. According to AARP, as people age their social contacts become fewer resulting in a decrease of human contact and community engagement. According to The National Institute of Health and Aging (3), it has been determined that loneliness can have an adverse impact on aging populations correlating directly with social isolation. A decline in cognitive function can be linked to social isolation because of fewer human contact and social engagements; resulting in depression, a mental illness known to increase the risk of mortality in aging populations lacking psychosocial supports.
Strategies to Address Social Isolation
So began the journey of providing Ellie with weekly trips to the grocery store and hour long conversations surrounding politics and tennis. I decided to build a small knit community around Ellie consisting of a home health nurse, homemaker, and a fellow co-worker to replace time spent in front of the television. The collaborating efforts of these organizations proved to be effective in improving Ellie’s mood, behavior, and sense of humor. The social work component to my narrative highlights the importance of respecting the dignity and worth of the person. On several occasions, the client requested that she be able to remain inside her home as her health declined. This request was accomplished by implementing my knowledge of resources and providing services to bridge Ellie to other disciplines and agencies able to address her medical needs. The organization in which I am currently employed identifies social isolation as a growing community problem. In response to the growing need, several community accessible groups have been added to the monthly calendar. I feel that social isolation could be classified as a social injustice because aging populations become marginalized and discriminated against because they are no longer viewed as financially contributing to the economy.
- Grand Challenges for Social Work – http://aaswsw.org/grand-challenges-initiative/12-challenges/
- Video: Health Effects of Social Isolation – http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/our-work/isolation/info-2012/health-effects-of-social-isolation.html?intcmp=AE-FOU-RELBOX
- Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and Health among Older Adults – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2756979/
- Images: Adobe Stock