I was visiting my nephew in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Alex, who is a Resident at the University of New Mexico Medical Center works in pediatric medicine but regular stints in the Emergency Room are part of his training. Because my real estate practice has found a niche serving the over-55 homeowner our conversation turned to the medical needs of this demographic. Alex said that one of the hardest parts of his job is allowing the older adult to leave the emergency room to return to a world of no “social capital.” At the time he told me this, I had never heard that term. I have since learned that “social capital” is a hot topic in the world of elder care.
Kayte Schooley is the Community Relations Director of Bickford of Bexley, a senior care facility in the heart of Bexley, Ohio. The branch is known for providing a nurturing environment: their residents and staff are called “BFM’s” – Bickford Family Members and have (adorably) won first place in a survey of “Overall Happiness” in their division. “Social engagement is so important” says Kayte “even a simple ‘how are you doing?’ can remind our BFM’s that they are not alone. We care.”
Social capital describes the network of relationships we all have which allow us to live happy, healthy, and smooth functioning lives. If I run out of gas on the side of the road, a call to my husband resulting in 5 gallons of gas delivered to me is a result of having something in my bank of social capital. 78-year-old Maggie lives alone and falls in her home. Even if in reach of a cell phone, if Maggie has no one close by to call after she dials 9-1-1, she is void of social capital.
Schooley says that moving seniors back into social engagement is a process. “Many come to us after living for some time alone, “she says. Steps back into the friendships enjoyed as a younger person are unfamiliar and difficult. At Bickford, each new resident fills out a “Lifesong” document: Where are you from? What are your hobbies? What did you do for a living? The staff at Bickford works hard to “match” the new residents with others with similar interests within the comfort level of both parties. “We never force our residents to engage beyond the limits,” she says. Kayte recounts “matching” two veterans who became friends finding commonality in their military service.
What this kind of social engagement proves is that our intersecting web of social capital relationships does not have to be vast and they are not necessarily family members. However, psychologists say the plumb line measuring our mental, emotional, and physical health runs parallel to the strength of these social bonds. Research shows that socially isolated older adults are at greater risk of sickness, disability, and even premature death. Doctors often use the Lubben Social Network Scale (LSNS) test to determine how socially “healthy” a person is. “You need to have a web of family and friends to be responsive to your needs,” says James Lubben, developer of the LSNS and director of the Institute on Aging at Boston College. *
In next week’s blog I will talk about how social capital wanes in our older years and what we can do to strengthen those ties that bind us to better health.
You can look into the services of Bickford of Bexley at: www.bickfordcommunities.com/
This blog is written by Kathy Chiero. Kathy is the Team Lead for The Kathy Chiero Group of Keller Williams Greater Columbus Realtors. Thinking of Buying or Selling? Find us www.OurOhioHome.com
*Harvard Men’s Health Watch March 2013