Isolation Can Lead to Health Complications Many inquiries and subsequent admissions to assisted living communities are often triggered by an event in one's life. Many seniors and/or their families often investigate lifestyle changes as a result of some type of loss in their life. They may have lost their spouse, their ability to drive, to take care of themselves independently, or perhaps some other traumatic event. During times like these it is human nature to bereave one’s losses, and through this process people have a tendency to re-evaluate their lives. It’s natural to compare personal accomplishments and position in life to a mental image of what they thought it might be at this stage when they were younger. At forty, when one comes to the conclusion that their life has not met their expectations, there is ample time to adjust one's priorities and get back on track. At eighty, however, the opportunity for change becomes more limited. John Barrymore, Sr. once said "A man is never old till regrets take the place of dreams." Research into seniors' attitudes and behavior suggests that anxieties related to future adverse health conditions can actually cause those conditions to arise. This is the time in life when the physical world may be perceived to be continually shrinking. Many face this time and the bereavement process quite alone, as they re-evaluate their lives and are confronted with their own mortality. There is a natural tendency to focus on the limitations of one's life and all of the obstacles that aging presents. When sadness turns to depression, they are headed for trouble. Much of the stress of this process becomes internalized which can make the elderly very vulnerable to depression. Suspect depression if they spend an inordinate amount of time sleeping or sitting in front of a television. There has been ample research to demonstrate the mind's capacity to influence one's health - both positively and negatively. If left unchecked, depression and despair can inhibit recovery from illness, lead to hopelessness and even ultimately premature death. Researcher Ken Wells in the landmark Rand study at UCLA found that 50 percent of all depressed people are over the age of 65. He studied depressed vs. non-depressed people and found that depressed elderly use 4 times the amount of health care dollars than non-depressed and had a 58 percent greater mortality rate within the first year of admittance to a skilled nursing facility than their non-depressed counter parts. For example, depressed people tend to lie around all day and don’t get up. This inactivity makes them susceptible to urinary tract infections and pneumonia, which if left untreated can lead to kidney failure and death. Living well in our later years is all about quality of life. People who are active and social generally avoid depression that can lead to health complications and dramatically affect the quality of one’s life. People who spend their time isolated from others their own age can become depressed and find that they are continually facing one health crisis after another.
The reluctant admission to an assisted living community is for many yet another reminder of their inability to live at home independently. Americans of this age group who struggled through the depression years to ultimately achieve the American dream of home ownership derive much of their identity from their living environment. It is indeed a significant challenge for many to give up a home in which they have lived for many years and now identify with the new retirement "home", not to mention learning to function in a communal environment and lifestyle. However, we humans are social creatures, we crave companionship, it keeps us more alert and fulfilled. In the past twenty years that I have been working with the elderly, I have seen that the people who are in daily contact with other people their own age and with similar lifestyle issues seem to gain strength from each other. They are more aware of their appearance, and hold onto their lifestyle skills longer. Those people who stay home too long because of promises their children were forced to make to keep them out of a “home” do not receive the social stimulation they absolutely require to remain healthy. By the time they are forced to investigate other supportive environments, their health has deteriorated so far that few will consider them appropriate, leaving the adult child or home care giver exhausted, frustrated and run down and at risk for their own health. In many cases it may be actually more cost effective to consider assisted living earlier, than wait until the extremely expensive nursing home is your only choice. For more than a decade, Potomac Homes has made it possible for those with Alzheimer's disease or dementia-related illnesses to enjoy the benefits of full-time professional care in a comfortable residential setting. To learn more about Potomac Homes call us at (800) 935-9898 to arrange a private tour or visit us on our website at www.potomacgrouphomes.com .
W.G. Manning and K.B. Wells, “Use of Outpatient Mental Health Care” (Rand report R-3277-NIMH) (Los Angeles: Rand Corporation, August 1986).