Bouts of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection from others are overriding mental health issues facing area seniors, according to local experts.
So much so that today, the suicide rate among seniors age 85 and older was found to be 20.2 per 100,000 individuals — second only to adults between the ages of 45 to 54 by a very small margin, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
With the nation’s population aging, local area agencies are taking aim at reducing this statistic.
“What does that tell us as a society about how we treat this age group?” said Dr. Amaal V.E. Tokars, executive director/public health officer of the Kendall County Health Department.
After all, she added, “We are all going to be seniors.”
Jason Andrade, the Behavior Health director with the Kendall County Health Department, said one of the biggest issues he sees facing seniors is loneliness.
“People may have worked their entire lives” and find themselves a bit lost upon retirement, he said. “In addition, a senior’s children now may have children and the grandparents are not included as much.”
Seniors often also face a time in their lives when friends and spouses are passing away.
“These issues can lead to feelings of depression and withdrawal,” Andrade added. “It is a difficult time especially when a person can no longer drive or access other transportation.”
The Kendall County Health Department offers several programs for seniors including a Senior Transition Program that works directly with seniors to help them live fully, a program for caregivers of seniors, and mental health counseling.
“We try to do a lot to demystify what is counseling, he added. “We want to let people know that the services are here and they do work.”
One reminder that public health officials want to make to both seniors and society is older adults can still offer a lot to their families and communities.
“It is important that we are mindful that our seniors have all the talents, skills, and abilities that they always had. They may look somewhat different — as we all look different as way age — but we are who we are, each unique and important,” Andrade said. “As a community, we need to think about how we can be inclusive of our seniors.”
With 1,800 volunteers, the DuPage Senior Citizens Council and Kane Senior Council (formed in 2018) provides “baseline, first response, boots on the ground” services to more than 6,000 area seniors each year that include Meals on Wheels, minor home repairs, yard cleanups, food assistance, and contract referrals for home repairs.
“Ninety-nine percent of the seniors (they serve) are under the poverty level,” Marylin Krolak, the executive director of the DuPage Senior Citizens Council and the Kane Senior Council said. “They are without family for the most part and living alone in a small home or subsidized senior residence.”
The organization also provides well-being checks and friendly visits which can combat isolation and loneliness, she added.
A lack of socialization and interaction with other human beings “can have a very detrimental effect on seniors,” Krolak said.
While the organization does not provide clinical mental health services, it instead focuses on one-on-one interactions through its volunteer network, she added.
“To see a smiling face on the other side of the door that is stopping by to deliver a meal or do a minor home repair can make a big difference in the day of a senior,” Krolak added.
That one-on-one daily contact also can provide “great insight” as to whether a senior is slipping and may need referral to a clinical professional, she added.
Just as Andrade stated, Krolak agreed the most common psycho social duress seniors talk about relates to the disconnectedness from others, lack of meaningful roles, and not being able to participate in activities due to fixed income or physical limitations.
“Once we get in and speak to these individuals, it helps for combat that,” Krolak said. “Many of the individuals who deliver meals will be the only other person a senior will see in the course of a day.”
Understanding the challenges for older Americans is important in a society that is becoming seemingly faster-paced all the time, officials said.
“We all have to be kind and we all have to be patient,” he said. “We just have to remember that seniors are at a unique place in their lives, when they are facing some unique stressors which we all will face someday.”
DuPage Senior Citizens Council
More information about services including meals on wheels, minor home repairs, yard cleanups, food assistance, and contract referrals for home repairs and a calendar of monthly activities can be found at https://www.dupageseniorcouncil.org/ or phone 630-620-0804.
Kane Senior Council
To sign up for meals on wheels or other services including minor home repairs, yard cleanups, food assistance, and contract referrals for home repairs visit https://www.kaneseniorcouncil.org/who-we-are/ or call 630-338-0999.
Kendall County Health Department
Eldercare counseling services include comprehensive psychosocial assessment, counseling, case management, outreach case management is available. Crisis intervention available on any county campus during normal business hours and 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the emergency crisis line at 630-553-9100. More information available at http://www.kendallhealth.org/mental-health/eldercare-services/
Senior Services Associates located in Kane and Kendall counties provides information, assistance, assessment and care coordination, caregiver assistance, adult protective services, emergency services, home repair, nursing home ombudsman, senior companions, and transportation services. More information available at https://seniorservicesassoc.org/ or by phoning 847-741-0404 for Elgin/Kane County, 630-897-4035 for Aurora/Kane County, and 630-553-5777 for Yorkville/Kendall County.
Illinois Department on Aging
Well-being checks and Outreach Services. To make a referral for a well- being check, contact the Department on Aging Senior HelpLine at 800-252-8966, 888-206-1327, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800- 273-TALK (8255)
National Alliance on Mental Illness
North Kane County visit htttp://www.namikcn.org/ or phone 847-410-9719.
Family Counseling Service’s Older Adult program is for seniors (age 60 and above) who are struggling with loneliness, grief, depression, family relationships, or more. For individuals without insurance coverage, Family Counseling Service provides behavioral health care based on a sliding fee scale. Visit https://aurorafcs.org/ or call 630-844-2662 for more information.
Metropolitan Family Services provides counseling, caregiver and protective services, as well as support for grandparents raising grandchildren. All services are designed to help families meet the challenges and opportunities of later years. In DuPage County call (630) 784-4800 or visit Metropolitan DuPage Center, 222 E. Willow Ave., Wheaton or Americenter of Naperville/Warrenville, 27475 Ferry Rd., Ste. 120, Warrenville.