Senior Isolation

For isolated seniors, loneliness is a debilitating factor. People 60 years and over represent approximately 27.4% of the Ocean County population according to 2015 US Census estimates. Comparatively, Miami - Dade County, Florida is estimated at 15.6% of the population. Because of the magnitude of this population, extra attention was given to including senior citizens in the community outreach. Of the 125 demographic surveys completed in the listening sessions and phone interviews, 84 of the participants were over 60 years of age. Nine were in their nineties.
The biggest barrier to optimal health for this segment of the population is transportation. Currently in Toms River, the senior communities do not communicate with each other, so tackling transportation issues with shared resources and buses was not seen as feasible or realistic in the short-term. The next most pressing barrier, remarkably, is loneliness and isolation. In the listening sessions, we heard sentiments such as:

  • “Making friends is very hard when you live alone.”
  • “I’d like someone to visit with me just to talk about things.”
  • “[I define health as] no loneliness.”
  • “I want a friend to go places with. I have no friends anymore.”
These sentiments, not surprisingly, were also echoed in the phone interviews with isolated seniors. Feedback received highlighted that many of these seniors lose their support network due to loss of spouses, friends and not living close to family members. Complicating this is inadequate transportation options which lead to further social isolation and loneliness with the subsequent mental and physical health issues that ensue.

As a result, the coalition has decided to focus on the following:
Train and engage volunteers in outreach efforts to isolated seniors. The TRFHSC was fortunate to receive funding through the 2017 Roadmaps Action Acceleration Support process. With this funding, the Senior Isolation HIT is developing and piloting a “Senior Ambassador” program in which three to four communities will be identified to participate. Ambassadors will be trained and coached to reduce the isolation and loneliness many of their community residents face. They will also get to know individuals outside their own communities, be integrated into the entire work of the coalition, and serve to teach the team through this pilot program so that best practices and replication can follow.

As a result of this program, the group endeavors to make the following impacts:

  • Communities will learn about each other and form bonds of trust.
  • Community Ambassadors will learn about each other’s challenges and strengths in an open, non-threatening, and non-competitive environment.
  • Senior isolation will be discussed in an open and safe environment.
  • By piloting the Ambassador program and taking steps to combat isolation, stakeholders will be seen as leaders in our community with a culture change of addressing an issue, rather than hiding from it.
  • Senior voices will be regarded as an integral part of the whole health of our community. Life lessons and wisdom will be respected and valued leading to a greater interest and buy-in about tackling community wide health concerns.
  • Senior isolation will no longer be seen as “someone else’s problem.” It will be regarded as a health issue to be addressed before the negative mental and physical consequences occur.