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Social isolation a call to arms

Social isolation a call to arms

Terry Crews

Thought piece

I am an active 70-year-old electronic engineer. For the last five decades, I have built many innovative products that created disruptions, and I intend to continue doing so for as long as I possibly can.

I love my work so I have no intention of retiring. I have observed the lives of many of my friends – some of them retired and sadly are now no longer with us. This got me thinking and searching for reasons why this happens.

I looked into and discovered a plethora of research studies that has clearly identified social isolation as the leading health risk for the ageing population. Could this be the reason why many people die soon after losing their lifetime partners? Could retiring be a similar circumstance after decades of work? The research I looked at pinpoints social isolation as the leading trigger.

Let’s look at the facts:

The consensus on social isolation is that it speeds up life threatening diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, suicide, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, frailty, ageing and many more.
Consider these statistics from Professor Beer at University of Adelaide. It is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, drinking six glasses of wine daily and it is considered twice as bad as obesity.

Social isolation can happen quickly and can usually occur within 48 hours. Trials with students testing the effects of social isolation were terminated after 48 hours due to the trauma created.

With all this research proving social isolation as the highest health risk for ageing people – my question is, why hasn’t someone looked at ways to prevent it? There are many great support organisations catering for the after-effects of social isolation, but limited support is available to prevent it before it leads to a disease diagnosis caused by it.

Doctors and hospitals are busy treating the sick and pharmaceutical companies have a thriving business providing a never-ending array of drugs that lead to more drugs. To me, it seems there is no incentive to get involved in prevention. The pressure on the health system will increase as the ageing population continues to grow.

Social isolation is preventable and it starts with the actions of family, friends and members of the community. Work pressures and the ‘busy’ culture we live in have left many families time poor, resulting in less time to visit and care for ageing parents.

News articles reporting seniors found dead at home at least 24 to 48 hours after having a serious fall are testimony to the lack of consistent communication within families. There was even a report of a lady who was not found for eight years! I find this totally unacceptable and have devoted my time and experience to finding and implementing a simple solution.

We are making the first step towards combatting social inclusion

It all starts

with more family contact

It all starts with regular family contact. Current technology has somewhat helped bridge this gap, but there is still a large number of people falling through the cracks. There needs to be a better and simpler solution – technology that’s easier for the aged person to use.

The aged relative can have a tablet with photos of family members and when pressed, it starts a video connection to the relative. Similarly, relatives can initiate a video call like an intercom, with no action needed from the aged person to receive the call.

Imagine a grandchild coming home from school with an award and excitingly calling nanna to tell her the good news. Easy-to-use technology can reconnect nanna with relatives and keep her part of the virtual family, at just one simple touch of a button.

Further additions to this technology can detect falls and summon help. Monitoring of daily activities in a non-invasive manner can predict health declines and lead to early intervention.

The aged population contains a valuable resource of accumulated experience and wisdom that can be put to work. Many could be casual call centre operators at home, allowing these functions to be brought back from call centres overseas.

Technology can be applied to many other roles that can be carried out at home. This provides a meaningful way to remain active in the community, even when mobility is impaired. It could also be a source of income.

This is the first step to providing social inclusion, meaning and purpose for those in their twilight years. Having reached 70, I do not want to just wither away in isolation. My generation has much to offer and I will do my utmost to bring this to fruition.