Review: Osage and McCall – Connecting with Socially Isolated Seniors: A Service Provider’s Guide (2012)

Osage, Patricia and McCall, Mary. Connecting with Socially Isolated Seniors: A Service Provider’s Guide. Berkley, CA: Health Professions Press. 2012. ISBN 9781932529739, 360 pp. Price $32.95 (Paper)

Authors Patricia Osage and Mary McCall explore the challenges associated with senior isolation in Connecting with Socially Isolated Seniors.  Designed as a service provider’s guide, this resource is a result of years of experience and expertise at the request of the staff and residents of Satellite Housing, Inc.  Satellite Housing, Inc. is a provider of affordable housing to the San Francisco area whose service coordinators and caregivers were in search of a consolidated resource of best practices. The book summarizes the findings from a large survey of older adults living in independent senior housing communities and from focus groups conducted with senior caregivers, service coordinators, and activities directors.
The authors addressed three big questions:

– Do you recognize an association between certain types of seniors and social isolation?
– What have you tried that was successful in reaching out to the aging?
– How can we prevent isolation and its’ impact in our housing communication?

The book is easy to understand and divided into fifteen short chapters; 10 of which identify key risk factors associated with social isolation in the elderly.  Besides succinct information, the book has numerous resources, including checklists, a quiz to help quickly identify individuals who are at risk for social isolation, contact information for specific public agencies, and “How to Help” sections that describe how to intervene with specific, actionable-specific items.  In addition each chapter includes a detailed case study that reinforces the information within the section and that may potentially help others identify risk factors with their residents, patients, or loved ones.
Several key behavioral and cultural issues are addressed within the book; including hoarding, substance use, intimate relationships, and language and culture.  For example:
Hoarding: Although unfamiliar to many several years ago, today this phenomenon is common. The term hoarding is associated with the term “messy” but oftentimes the core issue of why a senior becomes a hoarder is overlooked.  Hoarding is a result of loneliness and  material objects often replace relationships (p. 53).  A great take-away from this chapter is the reminder that as a service provider/caregiver the goal is not for the senior to get rid of everything, but to organize things giving them more use of their room.  The “eliminate –all” strategy can often do more harm than good. A great suggestion in this chapter is to seek out peer or clinical groups for reducing hoarding; matching seniors with their peers for support and social connection.
Intimate Relationships: Many seniors deal with the loss of a loved one/spouse which can lead to social isolation. Challenges associated with older adults who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) are often neglected.  Homosexual seniors 65 years and older grew up during a time when they felt they needed to hide their relationships.  Living in senior housing they still may perceive the need to hide those same feelings leading to increased isolation and loneliness. Again, networking with support groups, sharing their feelings with others, particularly people they do not live with may help.  A great resource, cited in this chapter and can be referenced to any senior is “SAGE” (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders) (p. 62).
One might assume that this resource could only be used within the California area due to the origin of the material, but the fact is this evidence-based handy 127-page guidebook can be used universally.  Working in medical education myself, I would recommend this book to any medical students who consider getting into Geriatrics or who have grandparents, my peers who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their parents, and/or anyone in the healthcare profession.
In the “notes” section of the book, is a reference-ready listing of agencies, websites, textbooks, journal articles, all current which can be applied to any senior housing or residential/personal care situation.  This resource will help identify seniors in any community and in residential care whose health and well-being are in jeopardy.  Highly recommended.

Diane L. Brown, MS
Program Manager II
Geriatrics Education Teams (GETs)
Medical College of Wisconsin

This book review was published in Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 34(2): 213-214

Download all book reviews for AAQ 34(2):AAQ34(2)BOOKREVIEWS

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1 Comments
  • Robert Jones

    Great information. Isolation is such a sad part of growing older for many people. Have you heard of the book, “Rich in Years” by author Johann Christoph Arnold? http://www.richinyears.com How can we restore the vital bonds between generations, so that wisdom and experience is shared and passed on to children and grandchildren? This book is full of vital information on aging beautifully!

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