Closing the Gap on Loneliness in Senior Housing

Perhaps one of the most pressing worries for a caregiver who makes the decision to move his or her loved one to senior housing is that the older adult will suffer from loneliness after the transition to assisted living.

Loneliness in Senior Housing

This is a valid concern. There are many things that can contribute to loneliness among the elderly. They include things like:
• the death of a spouse
• declining physical or mental health
• the transition from independent living to more structured environments
• the loss of peers and elderly family members

How Loneliness Affects Older Adults

Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, auto-immune disorders, and functional decline. Studies indicate a link between older adults who identified themselves as being lonely and increased mortality rates. A 2010 Brigham Young University study found that having few friends or weak social ties to the community is just as harmful to health as being an alcoholic or smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day.

Research Holds Promise for Alleviating Loneliness

Considering the major impact loneliness has on the length and quality of life for older adults, much research is being done to find ways to counteract loneliness among the elderly.

In years past, the major emphasis of such research generally examined the effects of loneliness rather than focusing on ways to alleviate it. Now, however, a shift is occurring in the way researchers are thinking about loneliness in senior housing settings.

In association with Planetree, a non-profit research organization, Sodexo has been working on a research project centering on quality of life issues, with an eye to creating an experience-centered approach to senior living. It is hoped that this new way of thinking will transform the way care is delivered to older adults in senior living communities.

The main idea behind this experience-centered approach is a simple one. To address loneliness at its roots, it is necessary to identify and mitigate, if possible, the factors leading to loneliness. Digging more deeply into each individual's life circumstances and experiences may yield clues to aid in the fight against loneliness.

The Role of Data Collection

With the advent of big data management capability, senior living communities can more easily access actionable information about community residents on an individual basis and put that information to work for residents to redesign the way care is given from the start.

It all starts with data collection. Thomas Jelley, Sodexo's Director of the Institute for Quality of Life, states: “By collecting data about your existing residents as well as potential future residents within the broader community, you can learn a lot more than you think about the needs and desires of prospective residents.”

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Matching that data with determinants that have been proven to trigger loneliness can help senior housing communities to identify residents who may be more prone to the effects of loneliness and offer appropriate care and support. Acting as a sort of early-warning system, the analysis of this type of data will likely yield positive results in terms of quick response to loneliness issues.

Technology for Connectedness Issues

Loneliness is associated with a feeling of disconnectedness socially or emotionally. Advancing technologies are enabling care workers and residents in assisted living facilities to stay more connected with each other and the community at large.

For instance, senior communities now have access to apps which promote social interaction and a sense of community by using a caring notice-board, where residents and care workers can share experiences and interesting community news regularly.

Other apps enable crowd-sourcing of volunteers who can spend time with and talk to residents who are feeling blue.

Still other apps help staff to connect with each other to share information about the emotional health of residents for whom they share responsibility, as well as share helpful tips for engaging residents in community activities or for dealing with the stresses that come with working with emotionally detached residents on a regular basis.

The Future of Loneliness Prevention and Treatment

Modern research holds much promise for enabling a more compassionate, person-centric approach to quality of life issues in senior care settings. As technology in the field advances, it is believed that more and more senior communities will be able to take advantage of the data collection and analysis that will yield positive resident outcomes.

To learn more about older adult care issues and solutions, please visit our senior caregiving information today.

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  1. Loneliness in elders is understandable and very sad; and clearly technology holds promise. Indeed it already makes a difference when we think about elders using Skype and Facebook. On the other hand, can anything replace human connections? Thanks for this valuable information–very complete and informative.

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