By Jo Strausz Rosen
A recent study led by scientists at the University of California, San Diego points to the fact that socially isolated individuals may be more likely to become critically ill or worse. Dr. Crystal Wiley Cene, a Professor of Clinical Medicine and Chief Administrative Officer for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion said, “Given the prevalence of social disconnectedness across the U.S., the public health impact is quite significant. Socially isolated individuals are 30% more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack and death from either.” These findings are taken from data collected around the world over the past 40 years. Risk factors such as widowhood and retirement add to an individual’s decline. Scientists discovered under-recognized factors in cardiovascular and brain disease that worsen with social isolation. “There is strong evidence linking social isolation and loneliness with increased risk of worsened heart and brain health in general; however, the data on the association with certain outcomes, such as heart failure, dementia and cognitive impairment is sparse,” says Cene.
Many residents at Jewish Senior Life apartments are flourishing and they regularly share with us how grateful they are for keeping them active and bringing them together to schmooze and dine and join each other during activities like painting, current events, cardio drumming, and creative writing. One of the many reasons people choose JSL is to celebrate in community.
JSL Life Enrichment Coordinators (LECs) invite and encourage all the independent residents to leave their apartments and join with everyone for all the activities on campus. Assisted Living and Memory Care residents may not have it as easy, especially when COVID outbreaks force some closures. So JSL offers door to door entertainment via video games, songs, activity books and music to stimulate brain and heart health. When LEC, Tamatra White works during COVID outbreaks, she puts together packets for her JSL participants in Fleischman Residence, utilizing the JSL IN2L system and touch town Channels. Tamatra says, “I upload virtual exercise programs, concerts from around the world, and informative documentaries. I make room visits daily to check on how residents are feeling, and I find that people are responding well especially when the fresh popcorn cart, a JSL a favorite, visits in the afternoons. Tamatra’s work is tailored to the Assisted Living and Memory Care residents who appreciate her attention and care.
She says, “There is nothing more fun than watching all the residents together as they enjoy special programs like musical entertainment, fast paced brain challenging games on the white board, challah making, flower arranging and painting.” Daniel Kline, Fleischman Recreation Therapist says, “I enjoy making challah with the residents in Assisted Living. I listen to them talk about their memories of Shabbat traditions from when they were young.”
Certified Assisted Living Director and Administrator, Kim Slanec, says, “Fleischman Residence offers families the unique opportunity to participate in “Famileo” a personalized monthly newsletter. Families can post messages and photos from their smartphones, tablets, or PCs. At the end of the month, JSL prints a custom newsletter personalized for each resident to enjoy. This helps them feel connected to their loved ones as they view photographic evidence of all the activities at home.”
Gillian Faust, Memory Care Life Enrichment Coordinator at Coville Assisted Living Apartments in Oak Park challenges her residents to participate in art activities. She says, “Coville resident, Natalie, doesn’t have good eyesight and usually avoids creating art. But she just happened to be finishing lunch as I was setting up and I invited her to join us. She was delighted and surprised herself with her finished product. Another resident, Judi, never likes her own work, but when she finished her pompom piece, she let me hang it in her room. A highlight with my residents is watching their faces light up when they hear music they recognize. The words to the songs come right back. I remember Ruth as I sat with her last year, not long before she passed away at 102 years of age. I put Frank Sinatra on the CD player for her because she had specifically requested him. I sat on the floor beside her and watched her closely. It wasn’t so much that her whole face lit up, rather it was all in her eyes. It was subtle. I could see the smile in her eyes, a faraway look, and I watched as she was transported to a happy time and place long ago. It was incredibly touching, and I felt honored to have witnessed it. “
Resident Service Coordinators who are social workers at JSL, are available for support and, when needed, are there to work with our residents who may suffer from loneliness. If residents are not coming to meals or withdrawing from activities, they notice and help to evaluate these indicators of social isolation and loneliness and heart and brain health outcomes. Residents are encouraged to seek interventions through community resources and connect to clinicians and therapists. People are not alone at JSL. They are visited and cared for and even have each other as neighbors to call on.
Consider thinking about how we can help others and at the same time help ourselves. Call your loved ones and make time for in person visits. Create a community of caring within your neighborhoods and houses of worship. Think about how each of us can rescue our friends and family from solitude. What might that look like? Friendly visits on our campus are just one of the ways volunteers can provide friendship and support. How can we make things better for those we know who are suffering from isolation? Do you have some ideas? Please share with us and write in with your suggestions and comments.