Holiday season shines light on needs and isolation of elderly

By Scott Kaligan
    The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a lot about the needs of our elderly and most vulnerable citizens. This includes their need for care, protective oversight and interaction. While that has always been the case, the isolation many have experienced during this pandemic has emphasized the role that senior living can play in so many lives. Many families are still caring for loved ones at home; loved ones that could benefit from a senior community. Because of this, I believe the pent-up demand for senior living is growing and is about to explode.

    The revelation that an elderly mother, father or spouse could benefit from the kind of environment that senior living provides is going to become even more evident during the holidays this year. Holidays are a time when families reconnect and a time that can shine a bright light on elders who are isolated. And while this year in-person gatherings will be limited, concern for an elder in the family will still surface, and many may find that their loved one has declined physically, mentally and socially during their isolation over the last nine months. Recognizing these declines is nothing to be embarrassed about or feel guilty for. But it is also not something to ignore. Yes, family members have taken care of them or taken them into their homes, or home health visits and services have been hired and coordinated, but that is not the same as the socialization and daily human interactions residents experience in a senior living community. Humans are social animals and a pandemic has not changed that.
    Historically the two most common reasons for a family to resist considering senior living have been cost and emotional ties to a memory-filled home. Now, the risk of COVID has been added to that list.
    Cost, of course, is always a concern as it is with so many decisions being made as a person ages. Senior living costs must be weighed against so many other financial issues such as upkeep and taxes on a house, costs for caregivers entering the home, lost income for family members taking on the caregiver role, the money that can be raised through selling a home, and other items. I have always said that if a loved one will have a better life in a senior living community, then the cost issue can be overcome.
    Leaving home is the most emotional part of the decision. The primary question to ask is if a familiar location is more important than quality of life. If the question “what does your loved one do each day” is answered with sleep, eat and watch TV, then quality of life is not high. The elderly, like those of any age, thrive on social engagement with people their own age. People at every age are drawn to those with common life experiences. People at every age thrive on variety in life. No matter how hard children of an aging parent try, they can’t be a peer. An in-home care giver is not the same as a social circle. Everyone, of every age, needs regular interaction, conversation, shared experiences, activities and fun with those of the same age and overall situation. Think of what isolation from remote learning due to closed schools is doing for school age children and their moods and progress. The need for social interaction to remain vibrant, engaged and happy is just as important to an 88-year-old as it is to an 8-year-old.
    COVID as a fear is real, but not as dramatic as it is perceived to be. An elderly family member being visited by care workers coming into the home is likely being exposed to more potential COVID risk than someone in a controlled environment like a well-run senior living community. And, within a senior living community, resident health is monitored by professional healthcare workers – around the clock. Lastly, the COVID induced no-visitation and quarantine rules at the start of the pandemic when everything was new and unknown have generally eased and become more family friendly, while at the same time maintaining a safe environment.
    Yes, the pent-up demand for seniors who would benefit from a senior living environment for both their physical and mental health is real and growing. Families who wait too long to explore options often find themselves deciding in the midst of a crisis, which is never a good situation. Instead, the professionals at senior living communities can offer real solutions now. If there is someone in your life who is merely maintaining and not really living, then your family is part of that demand and now is the time to make decisions.
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Scott Kaligan is the regional director for Americare, which operates numerous residential care centers in the Midwest, including Victorian Place of Cuba.