Aging is a series of processes that begin with life and continue throughout the life cycle. It represents the closing period in the lifespan, a time when the individual looks back on life, lives on past accomplishments and begins to finish off his life course. Adjusting to the changes that accompany old age requires that an individual is flexible and develops new coping skills to adapt to the changes that are common to this time in their lives.
The definition of ‘health’ with regard to old age is a subject of debate. There is consensus that health in old age cannot meaningfully be defined as the absence of disease because the prevalence of diagnosable disorders in elderly populations is high. Instead, health is considered to be multifaceted: The diagnosis of disease should be complemented by assessment of discomfort associated with symptoms (e.g., pain), life threat, treatment consequences (e.g. side effects of medication), functional capacity and subjective health evaluations (Borchelt et al., 1999).
Furthermore, Rowe & Khan (1987) suggested that the health of subgroups of older adults be defined in terms of their status relative to age and cohort norms.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that psychological and sociological factors have a significant influence on how well individuals age. Aging research has demonstrated a positive correlation of someone’s religious beliefs, social relationships, perceived health, self-efficacy, socioeconomic status and coping skills, among others, with their ability to age more successfully.
Social isolation is the complete or nearly-complete lack of contact between an individual and society. It differs from loneliness, which reflects a temporary lack of contact with others, it can be an issue for individuals of any age, though symptoms may differ by age groups.
It has similar characteristics in both temporary instances and for those with a historical lifelong isolation cycle. All types of social isolation can include staying home for lengthy periods of time, having no communication with family, acquaintances or friends, or willfully avoiding any contact with other humans when those opportunities do arise.
Generation gap being the major reason behind the isolation faced by the elderly is concerned with the differences found between members of different generations. More specifically, a generation gap can be used to describe the differences in actions, beliefs, tastes, etc. between members of younger generations when compared to members of older generations. While generations have been prevalent throughout all periods of history, the differences of these gaps have widened in the recent past.
· Family violence – perpetrator uses social isolation as a means of controlling their victim
· Health and disabilities – People may be embarrassed by their disabilities or health issues such that they have a tendency to isolate themselves to avoid social interaction out of fear that they would be judged or stigmatised.
· Loss of a spouse – Once a spouse has died, the other person may feel lonely and depressed.
· Living alone.
· Aging – Once a person reaches an age where issues such as cognitive impairments and disabilities arise, they are unable to go out and socialize.
· Transport issues – If the person doesn't have transport to attend gatherings or to simply get out of the house, they have no choice but to stay home all day which can lead to those feelings of depression.
· Societal adversity – Desire to avoid the discomfort, dangers, and responsibilities arising from being among people. This can happen if other people are sometimes, or often, rude, hostile, critical or judgmental, crude, or otherwise unpleasant. The person would just prefer to be alone to avoid the hassles and hardships of dealing with people.
· staying home for days or even weeks at a time due to lack of access to social situations rather than a desire to be alone;
· both not contacting, and not being contacted by, any acquaintances, even peripherally; for example, never being called by anybody on the telephone and never having anyone visit one's residence;
· A lack of meaningful, extended relationships, and especially close intimacy.
RISK AND PROTECTIVE FACTORS
From an intervention perspective, it is important to identify factors that may increase the likelihood of a person becoming isolated and/or lonely, as well as those that seem to reduce that risk, and the extent to which some of these might be “amenable” to intervention. Given the interrelatedness of the two concepts, identifying the risk and protective factors specific to each is problematic. However, evidence suggests that many of the same factors are associated with both.
Understanding and addressing social isolation and loneliness among older people, in both community and residential care settings, presents a number of challenges.
Based on the issues discussed in this article, a number of broad suggestions can be made.
1. Raise public awareness of the social isolation of seniors.
2. Promote improved access to information, services and programs for seniors.
3. Build the collective capacity of organisations and to address the social isolation of seniors through social innovation.
4. Support research to better understand the issue of social isolation.