Leon’s Legacy: Combating Social Isolation and Loneliness in Senior Citizens
We recently marked the one-year anniversary of my father-in-law’s passing. Leon was one of my favorite human beings and taught my family so much, especially in the last couple years of his life. He had dementia for several years and it eventually progressed to Alzheimer’s. This pandemic has shed an entirely new light for me on the plight of families dealing with elderly parents during this time. While last year was a very challenging one for our family, we have counted our blessings that we are not having to manage his care with the complication of a pandemic and ensuing quarantine.
Although I was extremely involved in my father-in-law’s care, I have recently learned that there is so much that I did not really understand in the end-of-life care arena. I knew about the standard resources from our area senior center and basic aide services to help my in-laws stay at home as long as possible. But I didn’t realize the breadth of services available to help older adults, nor did I realize the devastating impact of loneliness and isolation. I spent time this summer researching programs for seniors and wish I would have known about some of these while my father-in-law was still with us. Although they may not have ultimately prolonged his life, I truly believe that we could have improved his quality of life.
In the two and a half months between the time that my mother-in-law passed away until my father-in-law joined her, we watched an otherwise physically healthy man rapidly deteriorate before our eyes. At the time, I didn’t understand the severe health consequences of loneliness. After reading multiple studies this summer and researching programs, I now understand this better and have become connected with amazing companies that work to combat this. For others that may find themselves in this situation, here are a couple of companies that I have come to value their products and services and wish I had known about previously:
Joy For All – They provide robotic companion pets specifically designed for older adults and are often used with dementia patients. They kindly sent me one of their cats to see firsthand what it is like and I really think this could have provided some comfort for Leon towards the end.
Vivid-Pix – This company not only preserves and restores photos, but they also have taught me a lot about reminiscence therapy. My father-in-law had lost most of his short-term memory over the last several years, but he was often able to tell me detailed stories from his past. Being able to sit down with him and walk through an old photo album to see what memories it jogged would have been extremely valuable for our whole family.
Papa – Even though we had other family close by that could also help with day-to-day things for my in-laws, it was often a challenge to balance their needs with our kids’ schedules, work demands, etc. Often, my mother-in-law would call me during the day just to have someone to talk with and to provide a break from caring for my father-in-law. Knowing that a company was created to connect college students with older adults for conversation, running errands, etc., could have helped reduce our stress level and provided another socialization outlet and assistance for my in-laws.
Although I wish I had known about these things sooner, it has fueled a passion in me to help improve the quality of life for older adults. Social connections are a social determinant of health and I now better understand the devastating effects that loneliness and isolation can have on a person’s health. Nursing home administrators shared heart-breaking stories with me about the devastating effects that isolation and loneliness have had on their residents throughout this pandemic and required quarantine. While I was having these conversations, I was connected by a mutual friend to Dr. Jeremy Holloway, a PhD graduate at the University of Toledo, who was developing a program to connect university students to senior citizens to help combat loneliness and isolation.
Jeremy and I discovered that by joining forces, we could change the narrative of our elderly communities and help keep senior citizens connected and engaged, reinforcing that their story is one to be told.
And so Tellegacy was born! Jeremy and I have worked closely for the past four months building this program and doing a trial run with about 25 students matched with residents in retirement communities, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities in three states. We’ve gotten to witness the excitement from the students and are hearing of the positive impacts these calls and virtual visits are having on the senior citizens. The intent of the program is not only to have a friendly conversation, but to also build legacy and provide hope and a purpose. The program is just getting started, but already we are seeing successes and opportunities to create an even greater impact. To learn more about the program, click here to read our Tellegacy flyer.
My hope is that this program can help shift the way we view end-of-life care to bring seniors peace, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. Thank you Leon for teaching me so much over the years. Your legacy has helped shape the direction of this company and I hope that it will continue to benefit other seniors in the months and years to come.
achi is a holistic care management company that lowers overall expenses by actively engaging people and connecting them to organizations to address the social determinants of health. Through innovative partnerships, cross-sector collaboration, and creative solutions, we equip organizations across multiple industries to educate the people they serve and connect them with resources to improve their lives from the ground up. By partnering with health systems, educational institutions and corporations, achi empowers lasting transformation in individual lives—resulting in an overall healthier population and data to transform our healthcare payment models. To learn more about achi and its mission, visit www.achi.solutions.