AI50 Connect

Lakelyn Hogan - Loneliness and Isolation Impact on Older Adults

November 15, 2020 Hanh Brown / Lakelyn Hogan Season 1 Episode 63
AI50 Connect
Lakelyn Hogan - Loneliness and Isolation Impact on Older Adults
Show Notes Transcript

Lakelyn Hogan serves as Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate at the Global Headquarters of Home Instead®. Lakelyn began her career at the local franchise working one-on-one with seniors and CAREGivers. Today at the Global Headquarters, Lakelyn works to educate professionals in aging, families and communities on Home Instead’s services and how to navigate the unique challenges older adults face.

Lakelyn is a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska – Omaha where she is studying Social Gerontology. She has a Master of Arts in Social Gerontology and Master’s in Business Administration from UNO. Lakelyn has professional experience in the private and public sectors of senior care services. She also values giving back to her community. Currently, serving as a board member of the National Alliance for Caregiving, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for the Dreamweaver Foundation and Vice Chair of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Dementia Care Provider Roundtable.

Lakelyn has a passion for helping others, especially aging adults and their families.

  • Isolation and loneliness has been an issue for older adults far before we have ever social distancing and COVID-19. This time is giving us a heightened awareness of some of what older adults go through; but there is a difference between being isolated and being lonely.
  • What are the risk factors that make an older adult more prone to being isolated and lonely?
  • ​Studies have found that loneliness can have considerable health implications, worse than that of obesity, alcoholism and even smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  What are some additional health implications of loneliness and isolation?
  • What are some symptoms that family caregivers can look for if their loved one is feeling isolated and lonely?
  • What are some things that people can do to help their loved ones feel less isolated and lonely right now?

You can reach Lakelyn on LinkedIn at:

Hanh Brown: [00:00:00] So Lakelyn, welcome to warmer living. I’m so glad to have you with us today and to talk about this all too common topic.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:01:31] Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here and, and you’re right. I think we’re all getting a little bit of a taste of what we’re about to talk about today because of the pandemic and social distancing.

[00:01:43] So I look forward to our discussion cue.

Hanh Brown: [00:01:44] So could we start by having you share some background information where you’re from? Where does your expertise lie and how did you get interested in this field?

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:01:54] So I am based in Omaha, Nebraska. I work for an organization called home instead, and I am a gerontologist.

[00:02:02] That’s my background. I’m actually working towards a PhD in social gerontology. And my love for the field of aging really started with my love for people. I’ve always loved working with people and was fortunate to have my grandparents alive and still many of them are alive today. And so I’ve just developed a passion for serving older adults.

[00:02:23] They have so much to give on. There’s so many neat stories. And so being able to help them navigate the later years of life is just an honor and a joy and a privilege. And we know that isolation and loneliness is a huge issue among the aging population. And like I just mentioned. This pandemic really is causing all of us to experience a little bit of loneliness and isolation as well.

[00:02:47] So I’m hoping that we’re all learning a little bit about what it’s like to be isolated and to be lonely. And hopefully it will help us to be a little more empathetic. And I have some statistics on loneliness. Yeah. If that’s interesting to people about 22% of older adults, Are reporting loneliness and isolation, and that’s increased for the older adult population.

[00:03:10] About 43% of older adults are report isolation and loneliness. And I’m sure that number has only increased because of the pandemic.

Hanh Brown: [00:03:19] So let me ask you, let’s go back a little bit and help the listeners understand. Giving them a quick definition. So to you, what is the difference between being isolated and being lonely?

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:03:30] Yes. That’s a great question. They are two distinct terms. Often they get used interchangeably. So isolation is when somebody doesn’t have enough social contacts throughout their day. They are not seeing people regularly, but someone could be isolated. But still have a tie of communication to family via the telephone or that sort of thing.

[00:03:55] So they might not necessarily be lonely. They’re just physically isolated from others. And loneliness is more of a subjective term where someone feels like they’re not getting enough social connection. So someone even living in a household with other people or in a senior living community could still be lonely, even though they’re surrounded by people.

[00:04:14] So one’s kind of objective the number of actual social interactions and then once more. Subjective how they perceive those social interactions and whether or not they feel it’s enough for their, their preferences.

Hanh Brown: [00:04:27] Nowadays, both isolation and loneliness are very prevalent. I think before the pandemic, maybe it was more of a feeling lonely, but now it’s isolation and loneliness.

[00:04:40] And of course, when it impacts the older adults, it’s very detrimental. What are the risk factors that are. I guess that make an older adult more prone to being isolated and lonely.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:04:52] There’s several and you can categorize them in, into various buckets, but one of the more obvious ones would be living alone.

[00:05:00] So if an older adult is living alone, they’re at a higher risk for isolation and loneliness. We also know that those who are unmarried or widowed are also at a little bit higher risk. And if they have. Fewer social ties or maybe a family live out of town. Those are risk factors that someone might be lonely.

[00:05:22] And there’s also some health risk factors. You know, if a person’s not able to get out of the house, if their mobility’s limited, that can be a factor that contribute. And then there’s social factors. Maybe there’s a communication barrier hearing loss. If you think about it, if somebody, they don’t have the ability to hear.

[00:05:42] Those that they’re interacting with. They might be at a higher risk of isolation and loneliness, even if it’s just trying to hear over the phone. I’ve heard a lot of stories through this pandemic about families who have tried to keep up with their loved one via the telephone, but because of the person’s hearing loss, it really makes it challenging.

[00:06:00] And then just a few more factors. Major life changes can also lead to isolation and loneliness. If you think about it, the loss of a loved one or a friend or a spouse can be put somebody at much higher risk of loneliness. And then also. The social distancing, of course not being able to visit a loved one, whether it’s in their home or in a community setting, having to keep that six feet or socialized through the window or try to use utilize technology.

[00:06:29] It can be a real risk factor for somebody. Developing feelings of loneliness.

Hanh Brown: [00:06:34] Technologist has been great. Obviously it allows you and I to have this conversation and to keep some level of connection with each other. But I think for older adults, it’s been very helpful for them for obvious reasons, but I don’t think it will ever be near sitting down with your loved ones, having a meal with them, taking them for a walk.

[00:06:56] And I think depending on the acuity level, It’s not about words, right? It’s not about having a conversation is about being present. So I’m very thankful for technology, but I think we need to get back to the socialization. The face-to-face the being present with the loved ones.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:07:15] Oh, most certainly at home.

[00:07:17] And say, we talk about how there’s really no replacement for the human touch and being physically distant. We’re not able to hug our loved ones or hold their hand or provide. Physical comfort. And I think we take for granted what physical touch does for the human soul. I’m for our loneliness and isolation.

[00:07:36] But I agree technology has been so helpful. I know, even in my own family, we’ve utilized technology to stay connected. In fun and unique ways throughout this pandemic, but as we’re approaching the holidays, it’s challenging. And it’s going to probably create some additional feelings of loneliness for a lot of people.

[00:07:55] If they’re not able to gather with family. And sometimes as zoom Thanksgiving, dinner just doesn’t replace everyone physically sitting around the same table. But hopefully it’s a good substitute just for this.

Hanh Brown: [00:08:07] Yeah, I think so too. And you know about the holiday adding into the mix of the complication is that.

[00:08:13] There’ll be some traveling. And of course the ones that are traveling, are they going to quarantine themselves before visiting a family member? What if a family member has someone that’s ill or maybe in the age it’s vulnerable? It adds so many moving components that it’s really hard to lay that ground and maybe hurting someone’s feelings.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:08:35] Yeah, I think that is a great point. And I’ve heard some families say we’re going to take the rapid test before a family gathering, or we’re going to wear masks. And if everyone does it, then it will make it somewhat normal. And it can still allow us to gather. And some families are saying, you know what, this year we’re just going to keep our.

[00:08:53] Intimate family gathering really small. And then next summer, hopefully we can all come together and have a celebration, but you’re right. The older adult population is at higher risk of any virus, you know, cold flu coronavirus. So it is something that families should take seriously and have an open conversation about comfort levels about getting together in larger groups.

Hanh Brown: [00:09:17] Studies have found that loneliness can have considerable health implications worse than obesity, alcoholism, and even smoking 15 cigarettes a day. So what are some other health implications of loneliness and isolation, both mental

[00:09:33] and physical health impacts.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:09:34] Yes. And I think that the 15 cigarettes a day statistic is really shocking because for so long, we’ve been told smoking is bad for you.

[00:09:44] But if you think about how smoking 15 cigarettes a day could be just as detrimental to your health as Molinas. Oh, there’s some shock factor there. And there are health implications and we see this in higher levels of heart disease, depression, anxiety, those types of issues. We also see people, uh, there’s a, there was one study done that.

[00:10:06] People’s of wounds actually heal slower. If they’re lonely, they have feelings of loneliness. I really can impact our mind, body and soul. Also, we see people who are lonely at a slightly higher risk of developing dementia and cognitive issues. Because when you think about it, socialization is so important for cognitive stimulation.

[00:10:28] And if we’re not able to socialize regularly for feeling well, need for isolated, it could be. Put us at a higher risk of dementia. And then we also see higher risk for mortality of actually someone passing away because of feelings of loneliness, of social isolization. And we do see that in those, a higher risk of those living alone.

[00:10:50] So those are just some of the health implications. It really can take a physical and mental toll on an individual.

Hanh Brown: [00:10:57] It sure does. So what are some symptoms that family caregivers can look for? If their loved one is feeling isolated and lonely?

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:11:05] That’s a great question. Especially if people are gathering around the holidays, it can be kind of a good time to assess or check in with your loved one, to see how things are going.

[00:11:15] You know, you have those signs of maybe mental health issues of depression and anxiety. Sometimes it will also. Show up in physical symptoms, maybe someone’s having more headaches or aches and pains than they usually are. Maybe they’re having more drastic mood changes, maybe a little paranoia. So those are some signs that you can look for also just low energy.

[00:11:39] If somebody is usually a go getter and you’re noticing that they’re a little more lethargic, a little more rundown, that could be a sign that isolation or loneliness is playing a key. It could be a sign that there’s other health issues, but you do want to keep an eye out for those types of things or even just a change in their diet.

[00:11:59] If you think about it. Yeah. So much of a mealtime involves companionship and getting together with others. And so if you’re noticing that your loved one, isn’t eating as regularly, if I can, because they’re lonely and so changes in appetite or changes in their sleep patterns, if they’re sleeping more often, because maybe they don’t have as much on their calendar as they used to maybe pre pandemic.

[00:12:22] That might be a sign that, okay, can we get creative? Can we look for ways to bring some socialization back into the equation to help reduce those feelings of isolation and loneliness? And then one final thing to look out for is substance abuse. I know there has been studies I think, done through this pandemic of people drinking more or turning to.

[00:12:43] Different substances to kind of help cope. So if you’re noticing a change in substance use of your loved one, that could be another sign that there’s something else going on and it could be isolation or loneliness.

Hanh Brown: [00:12:56] Sadly, everything that you’re saying is so true and it’s more prevalent in the last eight, nine months.

[00:13:02] So we’ve identify the problem and the repercussions of them and the problem of loneliness existed before COVID and obviously during COVID. So now let’s talk about something that’s more actionable. So what are some things that people can do to help their loved ones feel less isolated and less lonely right now?

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:13:23] There’s a kind of a great three question kind of reflection that families can either reflect on with their loved one or maybe have their loved one reflect on. We can ask you how often do you feel a lack of companionship or how often do you feel left out? Socially. And how often do you feel socially isolated from others?

[00:13:44] And that can spark a conversation. Maybe somebody, maybe a family member thinks I’m checking in twice a week with my loved one. Isn’t that enough social interaction for them. They, on the other hand might think. You know, you used to stop by every day on your way home from work, and you’re not doing that anymore.

[00:14:01] So it might just be a conversation of, you know, I feel like I’m not getting enough social connection. Okay. As a family, what can we do to help increase the social interaction? So it could be a simple conversation. Also, we could utilize technology as we’ve talked about earlier, I mentioned my family. We use a device called a grand pad.

[00:14:21] So it’s a tablet for seniors and my grandparents have one a, we have an app on our phone and we can upload pictures and we can comment on the pictures through the app and you can do video calls and emails back and forth, and it’s really helped our families stay connected. So if families can find a device or.

[00:14:39] Even utilizing a zoom platform or teams or some sort of video call that might be a great way to stay socially connected. And especially pictures are nice because you can send those throughout the day, finding a way to do that. And even just the old fashioned telephones still works. Really well is picking up the phone to stay connected and writing letters.

[00:15:02] You know, you can also have there’s grandchildren drop pictures. Family members can send cards. And at homes that we’ve created this social movement called, ready to care, which is encouraging people just to. Perform more acts of kindness for the seniors in their communities. And one of the things we developed is a pen pal program.

[00:15:24] If people are out there, they may not, they might not have an older adult loved one in their lives. When they want to do something about reducing isolation and loneliness, they can join our pen pal program and I can provide the link Khan to you or play. I know it’s ready to backslash pen. Dash pal.

[00:15:43] And you can just go on there and write an email to correspond with someone. I think that we often take for granted what a handwritten letter or personal message can do for an older adult. It really can. Right in their day. So those are a few things. And if you have a loved one in a community setting, visiting might not be an option, but there’s some drive by perhaps parades that families can do, especially around the holidays or a meeting through the window, talking on a phone, people are getting really creative on how they’re staying.

[00:16:16] Connected, but it’s not always the quantity. That’s important to have the number of connections. It’s often more of the quality again. That’s why it’s important to have a conversation with your older adult, loved one, to understand, are they feeling they’re getting enough social connection? I think that is a really key part of making a difference.

Hanh Brown: [00:16:36] Absolutely. So don’t let this pandemic slow you down in connecting in celebrating the holidays. There’s so many ways, maybe not the same as previous years, but there are certainly some alternatives in hopefully by 2021, our Thanksgiving and Christmas will be different isolation and loneliness have been an issue for older adults far before we started social distancing due to the pandemic.

[00:17:02] So do you think this time is giving us a heightened awareness of what older adults go through every day?

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:17:09] I think so. I know that you’re right. The isolation and loneliness among older adults was prevalent before the pandemic. And I know it will continue to be after we all go back to our quote unquote normal lives, whatever that will look like.

[00:17:24] So I do think it’s given us a heightened awareness to what it feels like. To be isolated and lonely, but hopefully it helps us to continue these connections with our older loved ones as we move forward or inspires people to volunteer in the community, maybe it’s for their meals on wheels program, or maybe it’s through their faith community.

[00:17:47] There’s some sort of volunteer opportunity to serve older adults or connect with them. And maybe it’s joining the pen pal program or. If you have a neighbor that’s elderly in, on your block, maybe it’s just checking in more regularly or delivering a meal or having them come over for dinner, just continuing to stay in touch.

[00:18:06] And that’s my hope. You try to find silver linings when you go through really challenging times. And I think that’s one of the many silver linings of this pandemic is that people are kind of waking up to the fact that older adults. Are experiencing isolation and, and we all need to do something about it.

[00:18:22] It’s going to take us all.

Hanh Brown: [00:18:23] Yeah, it does. I think it’s fine to identify the problem and we can talk about it until ongoing and we can complain about it and this and that, but here’s the thing. I truly believe every single one of us, we do have a role and impact how small or large that we can make. We do have.

[00:18:40] A responsibility to make that impact with our families, with our neighbors, with our community. And of course, within our profession, if I would say if there anything good that came out of the pandemic, it’s really the awareness of how we ought to care for the, the aging population. And I truly believe how we address.

[00:19:02] Those issues. It’s going to set the stage for all of us when we are in that place. Eighties, plus let’s say.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:19:11] yes, aging from the moment we’re born, we are aging. So you’re absolutely right. This is our time to Paris back to those that are older in our community to really lift them up and to come alongside them at a time that might be extra challenging for them.

[00:19:27] And hopefully that will create a more caring society. You’re right. As we all know, enter those later years of life. And we know that there’s a big age wave that is moving through our country. More people are turning 65 each and every day from their baby boomer generation. And so it’s really going to take all of us to care for.

[00:19:50] The older population. And I think it’s really gonna hit us in the years to come. And as we’re going through this now, perhaps it is to prepare us in various ways for that significant age wave down the road.

Hanh Brown: [00:20:02] So, all right. So although than loneliness, what do you think is another unique challenge? Older adults face?

[00:20:10] Maybe you can share one that the average person wouldn’t think of.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:20:14] Wow. Well, there are a lot of challenges that older adults face and isolation and loneliness is certainly one of them. Another is just navigating the options for living towards end of life and the care that a person might need. I think a lot of people wait to think about that until it’s almost too late when they’re in a crisis mode, but there are more options than ever there’s community living there is.

[00:20:41] Hiring people like home instead to go into the home, there are 55 and older senior apartments that are out there. But a lot of people, again, they don’t think about what they want their final years to look like until they’re in it. So I think that’s a challenge people have of trying to navigate. What’s best for the person.

[00:21:01] Oftentimes family caregivers are involved and oftentimes they’re helping an older adult through that as well. And there’s a lot of challenges that family caregivers also face. But I think that planning and planning ahead is sometimes a challenge that doesn’t get talked about enough. I know we talk about your retirement plan and saving money for down the road, but we really don’t talk about.

[00:21:23] Okay. Once we get down to using those funds, what is that going to look like? So I think that is where there’s room for more conversation amongst all agents. I think maybe it’s because I’ve studied this in this field for so long, but I’ve already thought about how I want to age and have thought about what my end of life looks like and what I want it to look like.

[00:21:44] But many people my age, and even my parents’ age, haven’t even started having these. Conversations, but really they are so important for so many reasons, but most important is that, so the older adult, their wishes can be known by their family and carried out in those final years.

Hanh Brown: [00:22:01] I agree with you, you know, the word retirement is commonly used because there’s a certain glamour and sexiness that come with it.

[00:22:09] But what people don’t realize is let’s say retirement is an umbrella, but underneath that umbrella ought to be. How you want to live, whether it’s, you know, a senior living community, 55 plus a continuum of care and the affordability, that’s huge. And then who’s going to care for you. Let’s say, if you do decide to live at home, as long as you can.

[00:22:32] So there’s so many moving components that fall underneath it later years that people call it retirement, which is true, but there’s also. A big component of it. It’s my, I guess you would call it under the table or just not glamorous to talk about. And it’s about declining of health and that’s one of the driving force behind my podcast, because I think it’s so important folks like the uni and folks in the industry to start talking about planning as your healthy client, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

[00:23:02] It’s life, it’s an agent journey. And regardless of where you are, regardless of your acuity level, we as a society. As children as parents and grandparents in the future, we need to recognize. Embracing honored and celebrated.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:23:18] I wholeheartedly, we agree with that Han. And when people think about it, they just, you know, they think, well, I’ll get to that later.

[00:23:25] Or, you know, I’m just going to stay at home as long as possible. And my kids are going to take care of me and we’ll just kind of figure it out. And that I have found in my professional career that really does a disservice. To the older adult and to the whole family unit, because it causes a lot of stress.

[00:23:42] And so if families, again, can plan ahead, that is ideal. And at home instead we have a free resource on helping people plan ahead. It’s an aging plan and you can find out more at 40, 70 It’s a free PDF you can print out and it just helps you talk about. Areas of later life, your financial living arrangements, driving so much is involved and important to discuss about end of life.

[00:24:09] And you don’t have to tackle it all at once. You can talk about it as you go. Maybe the holidays is a great time to just plant a seed don’t conversations. With your loved ones about end of life, mum or dad, if you were to be hospitalized or diagnosed with something, what would you want, or do you see yourself living in this home forever?

[00:24:28] If you had to move, have you thought about that? So just starting those conversations in a casual way can really help to plant the seed for these discussions. That will be so important to families later on.

Hanh Brown: [00:24:40] Yeah, absolutely. I think we should bottle up many of conversations like this and to give it to folks who are in their thirties and forties, and maybe the parents that are in their sixties to start thinking about it.

[00:24:53] You don’t want to start thinking about it when your parents are in their eighties. Okay.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:24:57] Yes. And the title of our program is 40 70 talk because we encourage people to start talking when the adult children are about 40 and the parents are about 70, but I think we should shift that to even earlier because that conversation, I think you’re never too early in having that conversation because I think another thing this pandemic has taught us is we’re not always guaranteed tomorrow.

[00:25:18] We don’t know what, what it will bring. And so having conversations sooner rather than later, is just so important just to ensure that everyone’s on the same page.

Hanh Brown: [00:25:28] So on a personal level, what do you think is your biggest strength that enables you to have a unique and impactful effect on older adults?

[00:25:37] Something that maybe that’s not well known about you.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:25:40] Wow. I’d expect that question, but I think I just am so passionate about helping others. And I think studying in the field of gerontology, it’s still somewhat a young field, even though we’ve been aging for as long as people have been in existence, this field is fairly new.

[00:25:59] And so I think that having that background in education in the study of aging is a strength of mine. And I’m able to take. That knowledge base and share it on platforms like your wonderful podcast Han. And I’ve also done a lot of PR for home and sound various platforms, the hallmark channel, I’ll be on dr.

[00:26:18] Oz in a few days. And dr. Phil. So even just taking these topics to the masses in media, I think is a strength that I bring to this field. And it’s something I’m completely honored to do because we’re all aging. It needs to be part of society. It needs to be normalized to talk about all of these aging issues.

Hanh Brown: [00:26:39] Thank you. Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to say to the listeners?

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:26:44] I just want to thank you so much for having me and for hosting this podcast to discuss these topics that we’ve been touching on and so many others. And I just want to thank everyone for tuning in and. If you have an older adult in your life that you might suspect as lonely or isolated, even if they don’t seem to be making an effort to reach out on a regular basis.

[00:27:06] And if you don’t have an adult in your life, join our pen pal program and make a difference. I think we’ve had over 650 some pen pals join our program. And again, you can Backslash pen dash pound. So would love to have you join that movement and, and to just spread a little joy and kindness, especially the holidays.

[00:27:27] Thank you.

Hanh Brown: [00:27:28] I’ll make sure to include that in the show notes as well. I love it. I just, it’s a blessing to meet all these great people, you know, that are very impactful to older adults. I think we just need to amplify the impact and the caring industry that we’re in because the media. Unfortunately, because they don’t know, or maybe they just want to create a story that will fit their narrative of all these things that we’ve all heard for the past, you know, six, nine months.

[00:27:59] And I think there are many people like yourself that we need to put in the forefront and the impact that we’re all making.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:28:07] I couldn’t agree more. I think it is helping to shine a light on, on long-term care, the whole continuum. And I think the government and society is realizing the importance that we play in the care of older people and the people that we employ and the people we serve, they deserve just as much attention through this whole pandemic as, as the rest of the population.

[00:28:30] If not more. So, yeah, I think that. There’s a lot of those kinds of silver lining nuggets that we can take away and hopefully we’ll continue to be in the spotlight, but in better and better.

Hanh Brown: [00:28:42] that’s really true. We don’t want to be in the spotlight. The media has put the industry like what we’ve seen. We wanted to be in the spotlight where we’re impactful like yourself, what you’re doing.

[00:28:54] I really believe we can talk all about it.

[00:28:57] as long as we want and we can complain about it. I rather gravitate towards folks that are. Taking actions positively impactful

[00:29:06] and put them in the forefront. So the whole world can see that because whining about it, wears people down. It’s just enough of that.

Lakelyn Hogan: [00:29:14] Well, for putting positivity out. And I think, you know, honestly, that’s why we started this pen pal program is because we wanted to give people something that they could do to connect to that is positive. That can make a difference. And yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think the more positivity we can put out in the world the better.

[00:29:34] So thanks for being one of those positive light. Thank you.

Hanh Brown: [00:29:38] All right.Thank you so much.