World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: Senior Abuse, Isolation and Loneliness
Elder abuse, isolation and loneliness are a social issue which affects the health and human rights of millions of senior American citizens.
According to the United Nations, between 4% and 6% of elderly people have experienced some form of abuse at home. On this day, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Stannah invites you to reflect on the matter.
The US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health states that the growth of the aging population presents several public challenges. Often, abuse occurs in situations where the elder is isolated or feels alone. So, it’s important to understand isolation and loneliness among seniors and why these feelings become more prevalent as we age. It is even more urgent to create measures to combat loneliness and empower the elderly to protect themselves.
There are many personal and social factors that should be considered in any discussion, but here are a few:
- What does elder abuse mean?
- What happens after retirement?
- Isolation after widowhood
- What is the impact of loneliness on seniors’ health?
- What can we do to fight elder loneliness?
- What role does mobility play?
What does elder abuse mean?
The United Nations Secretary General’s message for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is to:
“End poverty and build a more sustainable world over the next 15 years. Ending neglect, abuse and violence against older people is a vital if we are to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and fulfil their underlying pledge to leave no one behind.”
This concern for the wellbeing of senior citizens around the world is not only related to the fulfilment of their human rights, but also has to do with the dramatic growth of the senior population and the challenges it poses to our current society and for future generations to come.
What is elder abuse?
According to the United Nations, elder abuse is:
“a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.”
Elder abuse is any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person. It can be divided in distinct kinds of abuse:
- Physical abuse – use of physical force in bodily injury, pain or impairment.
- Sexual abuse – non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an older person.
- Domestic violence – escalating pattern of violence by an intimate partner where the violence is used to exercise power and control.
- Psychological abuse – Infliction of mental or emotional anguish by threat, humiliation, or other verbal or nonverbal conduct.
- Financial abuse – illegal use of an older person’s funds, property or resources.
- Neglect – Failure of a caregiver to fulfill his or her care giving responsibilities.
- Abandonment – happens when a person, who has assumed responsibility for providing care to an elderly individual, abandons that individual.
The personal losses associated with abuse can be devastating and include loss of independence, life savings, health, dignity, and security.
Until recently, elder abuse and neglect was hidden from the public view and considered a private matter. Even today, it continues to be a taboo, mostly underestimated and ignored, but it is an important public health and societal problem.
What happens after retirement?
Retirement can be jarring, if not prepared in advance. It is important to keep busy!
Retirement from work is often accompanied by decreased social interaction and a feeling of isolation. This stage of life can be challenging, as many feel lost. The Loss of income, prestige, sense of competency and utility can lead to withdrawal from social contacts. Because of these losses, retirees often choose isolation, living an inactive lifestyle that leads to depression and loneliness (9 Ways Seniors can Manage Depression). It can also lead to a lack of self-esteem and declining health and well-being.
Moreover, abandonment and neglect can also seriously increase the feeling of isolation among the elderly.
Isolation after widowhood
People who are not married suffer more with loneliness then the married ones. Along with retirement, widowhood is very much associated with elder loneliness.
The loss of the spouse can generate feelings of loneliness, abandonment and helplessness. It is often the elderly themselves who isolate and deprive themselves of social activities.
With widowhood, there is a process of adaptation to the situation on many levels (personal, family and social). Sometimes the feeling of loneliness is already present, but is reinforced by the loss of a spouse.
Here is where friends play an important role: creating bonds, fostering openness and sharing experiences.
How does loneliness affect the health of the elderly?
Loneliness is linked to health, since health is defined by the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Loneliness is a feeling caused by an absence of something or someone. Health plays a very important role in having a superior quality life; loneliness interferes with elders’ lives and has a negative impact on their well-being.
Loneliness can have the same impact as chronic stress on our mental health, it also can affect our endocrine and immune systems which may lead to disease.
It is estimated that 70% of the elderly have a serious health problem associated with loneliness and 10% suffer from malignant loneliness, which compromises their physical and emotional health. The more common diseases associated with loneliness are hypertension, repeated infections, anxiety and depression.
How to fight loneliness in the elderly?
It’s important to recognize when loneliness becomes dangerous for the people we care about. If you suspect that your elderly loved ones are struggling to take care of themselves due to loneliness or depression, it may be time to offer your help. Look out for the warning signs and have an honest conversation about how things can improve.
There are many causes that lead to loneliness and isolation. However, “elderly” is not a synonym for “lonely”. The many senior citizens who have been through tricky situations and continue to age actively are the proof.
So, how do they do it? It’s simple: they occupy their free time with activities they may not have enjoyed in many years. If you are going through this situation, here are some activities you can try to avoid loneliness.
- Make new friendships – Meet new people, it’s an excellent way to combat isolation and loneliness among the elderly. Search in your area for places where you can make new friendships, like leisure parks or libraries.
- Volunteer – Becoming a volunteer for a cause you believe in can be tremendously beneficial. You can meet new people and become part of a group that shares your ideals. Working with likeminded people toward common goals can bring new meaning to your life, giving you a sense of purpose and reducing feelings of loneliness.
- Invest in social relationships – Have you ever felt that you should have paid more attention to your family and friends? This stage of life is an excellent time to do so. Arrange dinners and lunches for family and friends and make these events something permanent and fun. We suggest some fun after-dinner activities that both stimulate the mind and promote positive social interaction.
- Take a course – This is a wonderful opportunity to stimulate your mind during your free time. You can choose to learn a new language or something related to the arts, like dancing. Joining a group immediately leads to integration into a pool of people who share common interests. It can bring a sense of belonging. Being in a group and socializing with others stimulates creativity and helps to combat isolation and loneliness.
- Adopt a pet – Pets, especially dogs and cats, bring several benefits and one of them is the prevention of loneliness. Having a pet means constant companionship. In addition, you may make friends while walking your pet. (10 Ways a Pet can Improve Life for a Senior.)
How can Stannah help?
Unfortunately, many seniors are unable to participate in the suggested activities due to limited mobility. In fact, most people who suffer from mobility issues end up spending much of their time at home, aggravating the feeling of loneliness.
If you belong to this group of people, do not be discouraged. There is a solution for people with limited mobility who dream of maintaining an active and free life – stairlifts.
This mobility device will let you move up and down the stairs of your home and will help you leave your house more easily, so you can dedicate your time to the activities you enjoy.
Engage in activities, get involved in social settings and, most of all, have fun! It’s never easy putting yourself out there, but by taking these first steps, you’ll be moving towards a happier and more fulfilling life!
Do you have suggestions for other activities that combat isolation and loneliness among the elderly? Share your stories with us. Contact us!