By Katie Hoskins, Master of Social Work Student and 2014-2015 George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Neighbors Helping Neighbors Scholar
Since I first began seeing the participants involved in Neighbors Helping Neighbors, I noticed a strong theme: isolation and loneliness. Many of my participants live alone and have a limited social life.
I have experienced this misfortune with one participant in particular. She is 91 years old and was moved to Salt Lake last year from Tennessee by her daughter. While she lives just below her daughter in a sort of grandmother-apartment set-up, she is incredibly alone and isolated. She is not familiar with the Salt Lake area and even though she can still drive, she won’t venture out too far for fear of getting lost. Seeing me and my practicum partner, Whitney, every week is the highlight of her day and it is always difficult to leave her. In lieu of going out to social activities, she will read and keep up on current events. She knows more about what’s going on in the world than I do!
In an effort to decrease her isolation, we have talked about taking her to a senior center near her home where she could be picked up daily and go spend a few hours at the center. We are still working on a time to take her to do this and she is excited to try it.
It has been interesting over these past few month to see how family dynamics play into the care of the elderly. The above mentioned client was moved here by her daughter with the intention of helping her be closer to family, but it may have harmed her by creating the isolation she experiences daily. She had life-long friends and neighbors in Tennessee, but in Salt Lake City she doesn’t know anyone. I have seen how adult children may have good intentions in trying to help their older parents but, in the long run, it may not be what their parent(s) needs.
I have been learning at Neighbors Helping Neighbors that depression and isolation go hand-in-hand. Factors that the elderly may not be able to control, such as transportation to social events or loss of hearing, which makes it more challenging to communicate, can contribute to depression. I provide transportation to doctor’s visits, grocery shopping, and social events, which helps combat feelings of hopelessness and depression. In terms of communication barriers due to hearing loss, Neighbors Helping Neighbors can continue to provide time and support to our participants. Time has been crucial in my home visits. From the moment I step in, to the moment I leave, the main thing all my participants want is my time and attention – to have that social interaction, even if they can hardly hear how I respond. It’s knowing someone is there to listen that truly makes every visit incredible.