We all know the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of a complex issue such as seniors social isolation, a picture can help explain the myriad factors that may lead to isolation and the supports that can mitigate or prevent it.
A journey map developed for the PEGASIS initiative illustrates many of these factors. The Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council team conducted in-depth interviews with isolated seniors and senior-serving workers and found several themes related to their experiences. Although the map doesn’t show all possible factors, the findings support the scientific literature which acknowledges the complex and dynamic nature of this subject.
For the seniors interviewed, factors such as poverty, physical health and mobility limitations, mental health limitations, language barriers, caregiving for a loved one, transportation issues, emotional health issues, and environmental issues (such as snow, cold and ice) were linked to social isolation.
As seniors experience a loss or a series of losses it can trigger a crisis. Noted losses include loss of income (i.e. losing a job); a physical health or mental health crisis; a decline in mobility; death of a loved one, loss of connection with family; or loss of a home, a pet or a driver’s license.
External Supports from Community and Others
Support with transportation, housing, income, medical/health, and family/caregiving address some of the risk factors, losses and crises. Advocacy and support from the community at large and religious communities play a significant role as well.
Internal Resilience and Self-Care
Personally- meaningful activities, spirituality, and personal resilience they have built up over time can help seniors deal with challenges, but sometimes all our coping mechanisms can be strained to the tipping point into isolation and crisis. Self-advocacy, positive relationships and staying active and healthy can lead a person out of social isolation or prevent them from becoming isolated to begin with.
Systemic Barriers and Solutions
Several systemic barriers contribute to challenges in addressing and mitigating risk factors around social vulnerability. These include restrictive government policies such as lack of supports for immigrant and refugee seniors who come on family sponsorship or super visa; lack of affordable seniors housing; and lack of affordable assisted transportation.
There are a host of potential system solutions that would address social isolation. Some that the collaborative has noted include policy improvements, adequate income supports, age friendly environments, adequate affordable housing options and enough affordable transportation.
The Big Picture
The interviews showed wide variations in personal experiences across a spectrum of factors that influence social vulnerability and social isolation. Although each person’s journey is unique to their situation, there are common issues and conditions that can be linked to social isolation. PEGASIS will continue to collectively address factors that lead to social isolation and advocate for system solutions that can benefit all Edmonton seniors.
Thank you to M.A.P.S. (Mapping and Planning Support) for creating the journey map.