Creative Solutions to Resident Isolation Proposed at Meeting

“Make up your family of choice with new friends.”

“Isolation is a predictor of mortality…
and makes seniors more vulnerable to abuse.”

“Isolation leads to depression (and may require professional therapy).”

Reported By:
MARY LOPATA, Publicity Chair

Date and Location:
Friday, February 26, 2016, 2 pm, at Village Greens, Dining Rooms 2 & 3

Guest Speakers:
SAMANTHA COOK, Social Worker with Laguna Woods Village Social Services
DR. ELIZABETH ROMANO, Forensic Psychologist and Laguna Woods Village resident

“Isolation and Its Effect on Village Residents”

Meeting opened by President Catherine Brians. Opening remarks welcomed all in attendance and presented Friends of the Village non-political mission and purpose. Turned introductions of guest speakers over to Past President Joan Milliman.

First Speaker, Samantha Cook
DSCN3405Ms. Cook began with brief explanation of Social Services available in Laguna Woods Village. Their office is on the first floor of the Community Center. Stated if resident, family, or neighbor has a question about a resident’s declining health status, the department can counsel on available resources. One of the indicators that help may be needed is falls. There is a reporting feedback system in place with Social Services and Security. Social Services has a good relationship with Security, the OC Sheriff’s Department, and Saddleback Hospital.

Regarding isolation in the community, the national statistic is that 28% of those over the age of 65 live alone. Orange County has both the youngest community (Santa Ana) and the oldest community (Laguna Woods) in the nation.

DSCN3411Isolation is a predictor of loneliness which is also a predictor of mortality. Isolation has multiple causes, some of which are: retirement (no more need to get up and work 9-5 with co-workers), the death of friends and/or family, lessened cognitive ability that is recognized by the person and is a source of social embarrassment, and limited mobility either by not being able to drive any longer or being physically unable to get around.

Social Services receives Fall Reports from the Security Department and follows up to provide information about Meals on Wheels, bus services (there’s a class on how to access the Laguna Woods Village bus system), taxi vouchers, and how to arrange for a hired caregiver to be their driver.

Moving away from one’s old community can cause isolation if new neighbors are not welcoming and inclusive.

In Laguna Woods Village, there is also increasing diversity in the form of ethnic groups: including Chinese, Korean, Persian, and Hispanic. This can lead to cultural and language barriers to integrating into the Village

.Isolation also makes seniors more vulnerable to abuse.

DSCN3429Social Services’ website has a list of services available, with pamphlets in the office for many resources. Long-Term Planning is especially important for residents without family. Hiring caregivers through a professional agency where the registry and the employees have been checked, is preferable to private hires, even though they cost more (approx $25-28/hr.). The professional agency pays all the insurance and taxes for the caregiver employees, something that is usually not considered when residents think they are getting a good deal by hiring privately.

DSCN3428If a resident is a caregiver to a family member, there is a support group here for them.

Friendly Visitor is the volunteer program through Social Services, and there is education and training given for the positions.


Second Speaker, Dr. Elizabeth Romano
Dr. Romano stated that in her practice experience, isolation leads to depression, which is often of biochemical origin. See an M.D. to address medical problems that could be causing serotonin imbalance. She is concerned about the suicide rate in the Village, which needs to be addressed, and has a connection to feelings of isolation.

She has formed an “un-club” that meets informally at the Starbucks near Stater Bros. on El Toro Road, just for people to get together and visit, with no agenda or rules. Similar to “Cheers” – but a coffee shop instead of a bar. People are there any time from 6 am-on every morning. There is also a group at Nana Fi’s bakery near Trader Joes’s on Avenida De La Carlotta.

DSCN3419There is going to be a “You’re Beautiful” button campaign starting up just to let people know that they are not invisible.

Dr. Romano stated that if someone has symptoms of depression, they should see a therapist to help them change their thinking. Use your mental health benefit in your health insurance. Major depression is not something one overcomes without professional help.

However, if isolation is the problem, get out and be active without any expectations. Make up your family of choice with new friends.

She wants to incorporate and organize existing welcome neighbor groups, set up a telephone tree to keep everyone in touch and know someone cares about them. She welcomes all volunteers and ideas.

Suggestions from the Audience
There is a Disaster Task Force already. That group could be used to check on neighbors as they would if there was an earthquake.

There is an “Our Neck of the Woods” neighborhood group that is organized and functioning that could be a model. There is a Garden Villa Association involving the 3-story buildings with a building captain model.

Dr. Romano would like the “un-club” to form neighborhood groups that cover the entire Village, making our neighbors our families of choice. All that is needed to care for one another is to give a little human kindness.

Dr. Romano is about to go on a book tour for her new book Stand Strong.

Closing Remarks by President Catherine Brians
Thanked all in attendance and presented overview of upcoming Friends of the Village meetings. Next meeting is scheduled for 4th Friday in March (25th). Guest speaker to be General Manager/CEO Bradley Hudson of the newly-formed Village Management Services, Inc.