Take Two of These and Call Me in the Morning
An increasing amount of research demonstrates the health benefits of a good social support network. It is proven that elders who have a strong social network and continue to engage in the community are healthier and maintain their health for a longer period. By community, I mean a true community, not a senior living community or 50+ patio home community - but people of different races, ages, sex, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. A good old-fashioned community.
Our cultural and societal norms still encourage isolation and segregation for elders. Think about it....how many 50+ patio home neighborhoods do we have to have. Is it good for one cohort to form a community like that? What are the benefits? How about senior living campuses? I get the idea...but now those organizations are frantically trying to incorporate intergenerational "programming" because of all the benefits that it brings. Even good old-fashioned neighborhood living is different. Gone are the days where we would have relationships and check up on our neighbors. Of course, maybe we still do in emergency situations - but we don't have relationships with our neighbors. Families are scattered across the country and are unable to check on aging parents frequently.
Well, there is a new answer to the isolation epidemic - social prescribing. Instead of natural, organic relationship and community - let's prescribe it. I am not saying this is a bad thing. It is forcing us to be intentional and commit to what we should be doing anyway! But, I do wish it didn't have to be this way. Social prescribing is when a physician or other provider recognizes the signs of depression, isolation and loneliness in an elder and literally prescribes going to church, attending a support group, hobby group or an exercise class to combat the depression and the other negative health effects that depression and isolation can lead to. The UK has allocating funding and physicians are required to prescribe social interaction when depression is recognized. It is a practice that is gaining traction in the elder caregiving community.
What are your thoughts on social prescribing? Whose responsibility is it to make sure our more vulnerable populations are engaged and thriving in our communities?