Approximately one in four Americans aged 65 and older are socially isolated (NAP). This isolation presents significant health risks, including premature mortality, poor mental health, high blood pressure, and obesity. Social isolation is linked with a 50% increase in dementia, higher risks of stroke, and, in some cases, even suicide (CDC).
As occupational therapists (OTs), we see our clients’ struggles firsthand. And we have the unique opportunity to help identify, limit, and alleviate the adverse effects of social isolation on the aging population. But how?
So what is accessibility? Merriam-Webster defines accessibility as capable of being reached, capable of being understood, or accessed by differently-abled individuals. As OTs and accessibility specialists, we can use our skills to increase the quality of life for the communities we serve.
Importance of continuity of care
Complications in care surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a reality many of us were already aware of, continuity of care is vital to our communities’ health and well-being.
With hospital beds full and the healthcare industry stretched to its maximum capacity, it was our elderly community that paid the price. Many individuals who needed care no longer felt safe leaving their homes for treatment. Those who did leave their homes were hurried through the system to create more space for more critical COVID patients.
The cumulative effect of a lack of medical accessibility and receptivity is critical in its own right. With an increase in ageism, inability to receive preventative care, and the onset of a more sedentary lifestyle, our older population was left feeling isolated and abandoned by the health community on which they depend.
Value of accessible home modifications
For some individuals, leaving their home is not only about if but how. Physical limitations on mobility isolate our elderly communities, even if they are highly motivated to get out and experience the world.
Often what we think creates mobility opportunities still leaves accessibility gaps. It’s great that your town has a curbside shuttle service for those in need. How will those individuals get to their curb or into the office once they arrive at their destination without extra support?
Those three steps between your garage and living room can feel like a mountain for someone experiencing limited mobility and isolation.
Creating home modifications and physical mobility solutions keeps the elderly and people with mobility issues safe in their own homes while also creating a bridge between their isolation and the outside world.
Poor mental health brought on by isolation compromises the body’s ability to fight off illness and disease. Neglecting mental health can create new ailments while compounding preexisting conditions (Blue Cross Blue Shield). By increasing accessibility through home modifications, we allow individuals with limited mobility the freedom to connect with the outside world or even parts of their home which were previously inaccessible.
Physical and emotional accessibility is not a luxury. It’s a vital component to a healthy mind, strong body, and happy life. Reach out to learn more about creating an accessible environment for yourself or your clients.