The Antidote

Counterspin for Health Care and Health News

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Elder care: overlooking the root of the problem

An article in Sunday's NYTimes begins with a somewhat breathless description of a remote-sensing system for looking after older adults living in the community. The system involves video cameras and a little box, connected to the Internet, in which folks can answer questions about how they're doing with the push of a button. An expert on aging services then admits that the systems are not a substitute for human caretakers, and the article finishes up with some discussion of choosing care managers (such as social workers and nurses).

The article does not present any context regarding the prevalence and health impact of isolation of elderly people from their communities. While we're thinking about designing communities to increase physical activity, is it too late for us, as a society, to structure communities to support the needs of older adults, too, so that they are safe, well looked after, and have meaningful human contact on a regular basis? In many societies, and formerly in our own, older people lived with their families. Real communities could, to some extent, obviate the need for the fixes described in the Times article.

The risks of isolation are vividly described, and a case for connected communities made, in Eric Klinenberg's Heat Wave, a terrific, compelling book that makes you forget you're reading a work of sociology.



At 2:56 AM, Blogger Ruth said...

Oh, Emily, this is such an important topic, and will be increasingly important as we baby boomers age!

I am a rabbinic chaplaincy intern at a home for elders, and it has been quite an eye opening experience. Getting old is, as many of my elders tell me, "not for sissies." For those with dementia and other diminished capacities, it is a time of great vulnerability.

Thanks for your blog item on the subject!

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Emily DeVoto, Ph.D., said...

Thanks for your comment, Ruth. I'm right there with you on this one... we should talk about it sometime!

At 11:42 PM, Anonymous Susan Kuchinskas said...

Not only social contact but physical touch remains just as important for the elderly -- and very difficult for many. Especially now that as a society we're so worried about physical abuse. Just a kiss or hug can increase someone's oxytocin, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress.


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