Broward County has the fastest-growing population of people over 85 in the country. One of the growing problems they face is social isolation, which can lead to depression, loneliness and safety issues for those living alone.
Last summer, several local nonprofits released a report entitled,"The Silver Tsunami: Is Broward Ready?" It found that a high number of seniors in Broward admitted to feeling isolated.
Since then, a Dignity in Aging Task Force has been developing an action plan. A year later, new funding is coming for 10 projects that are trying to combat the effects of isolation. It's the first round of grants since the report was released.
The three agencies that released the report, including The Community Foundation of Broward, The Jewish Federation and The United Way, are funding projects that focus on improving the quality of care for seniors, as well as creating connections and addressing caretaker and transportation needs.
WLRN spoke with the Vice President of Grants and Initiatives at The Community Foundation of Broward, Sheri Brown, about what needs to happen to shift the culture around senior care in the county - especially as 15,000 more people are expected to age past 85 by the year 2030.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WLRN: What are some of the mental health issues that isolation can lead to?
BROWN: We're talking about individuals who were independent at one point. They find themselves in a situation where they can no longer do that, and no one knows about it. It's not like they're standing on their balcony yelling out in the street saying, ‘hey, I'm here, I'm by myself, come help me.’ We really have to make a concerted effort as a community to find these isolated seniors.
I think a lot of people are experiencing it personally. I've experienced observing my aunt be the caretaker, or caregiver, of several people in my own family.
I've seen both sides where she's experienced basically giving up her life in order to care for my grandparents and my uncles. And it's very isolating not just for the individual but the caregiver is also experiencing isolation.
One of the projects that we are supporting does look at caregiver support, because we can't forget about those who are caught in the middle. So having seen that play out, I totally understand from firsthand experience how it could be detrimental to a person's livelihood when they're isolated as a caregiver, and they're watching the person they're caring for experience isolation in ways where, because of physical disabilities they just can't get out.
Transportation is an issue too, right?
Transportation is a huge issue in Broward County when it comes to elders being isolated. There's not efficient, and sufficient, transportation to get elders out of their homes, out into the community. So we have to come up with solutions that involve not just connecting them to the service, but ensuring the service is provided. That is what is missing. You can't just refer 80 year olds to a hotline, and put them on a waiting list, and forget about them.You know, we have to have people who are checking in on the elders and making sure they're getting the services they need.
When you're looking at projects to fund, what's the feedback you're hearing from actual seniors?
From the social service providers, we are hearing that there is definitely more demand than they could provide service for. So they are echoing the need for additional dollars to provide additional caseworkers to manage more seniors.
I think that rings true, because the senior isolation piece is real when you talk to a senior you know, ‘who cares about me? Who knows I'm here?’ When you go into those homes and you assess and see, they really are choosing between feeding the pet - and you look in their refrigerator - and it's empty. It's very heartbreaking.
One potential solution that is one of 10 projects that the foundation has recently announced it's going to start funding is The Slow Burn Theatre. What's happening there?
Basically, what they will do is go into the community and recruit seniors 80 and over to attend their performances at The Broward Center for the Performing Arts. So we're anticipating over 200 seniors to be engaged in the performing arts.
This definitely addresses isolation, and it's going to take our seniors out of their normal environment and get them into a space where they feel like you know, they've come alive and they've been reinvigorated.
Once became clear that Broward is looking at such a population boom of older people, how did that change your perspective on aging?
Aging is happening every single day to each and every one of us. Having grown up here, what motivates me and drives me is the fact that we have many people who are experiencing more negative aspects of aging in terms of isolation, medical issues, immobility... And people basically not experiencing dignity as they age.
It should not be that way.
The 10 projects recieving funding to combat senior isolation:
Memorial Foundation, ALLIES Program $100,000
Add 100 new senior to participate in activities and getone-on-one help with depression.
Florida Health Networks $100,000
A Lifeline to the Community: Preventing Social Isolation: Help 100 seniors with depression management.
Active@Home: Give 100 seniors in-home access to technology thatconnects them to family and interactive online activities.
Mt. Olive Development Corporation, $100,000
Senior Connection: Provide 50 seniors social engagement and in-home visits.
Connect to Life through H.E.A.R. for Seniors: Address hearing needs of 150 new seniors to open upcommunication to alleviate isolation.
Easterseals South Florida, $61,225
Expanded and Enhanced Adult Day Care: Serve 80 older seniors in Adult Day Care and providerespite for caregivers.
Caregiver Assistance Program: Serve 125 new clients with support, referrals toresources, and provide respite for caregivers.
Daniel Cantor Senior Center, $80,422
Connected to Friends and Activities: Engage 50 new seniors at the Center to bring totalparticipation to 350 in social activities.
Slow Burn Theatre, $25,000
Elder Arts: Provide musical performances at the Broward Center for 200 seniors age 80+
Canine Assisted Therapies $15,000
Improving Lives of Isolated Seniors Utilizing Pet Therapy: Provide pet-therapy for 100 isolated seniors
You can read the full Silver Tsunami report from 2018 that details senior isolation, below: