By Steve Abate, Executive Vice President, Healthcare Division of Connect America
As we embark upon the holiday season, we anticipate this year’s celebrations will look a lot different from previous years. Most families face difficult decisions surrounding travel and visiting with their loved ones. Many seniors will be forced to celebrate the holidays alone, raising added concerns over loneliness and feelings of isolation.
Social isolation has a significant effect on the health and well-being of seniors nationwide, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of these concerns. Research from the National Poll on Healthy Aging found that feelings of loneliness doubled for older adults in the first months of COVID-19.
While social distancing measures are necessary to reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure and infection, they can also increase feelings of social isolation, leading to serious health consequences, especially for our most vulnerable senior population. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), social isolation is associated with increases in chronic conditions for seniors, including dementia, stroke and heart disease. It also connects to higher emergency department visits, hospitalizations and nursing home placements. Additional research has shown that chronic loneliness affects memory, physical well-being and mental health and relates to higher risks of anxiety, depression, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.
Loneliness and social isolation in older adults also have a tremendous financial cost. A study published by the AARP Public Policy Institute found social isolation among older adults is associated with an estimated $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending annually. Increased hospitalizations and institutionalizations help drive these costs.
Healthy Habits Can Help
The good news is that there are ways to help reduce feelings of social isolation. There is a connection between lifestyle behaviors and loneliness. Research suggests those who regularly eat healthy, exercise, and get the proper rest are less likely to report feelings of isolation than those who practice the same healthy habits only twice a week or less.
There is also a correlation between tobacco use and feelings of isolation. Individuals who smoke or use tobacco are more likely to feel lonely or isolated than those who do not. Practicing healthy habits are just as important for physical health as they are for one’s mental health.
Connecting with Loved Ones During the Holidays
Amidst the pandemic, many of the traditional strategies for engaging older adults have been suspended. Group meal sites, social activities, in-person health interactions, and volunteer commitments have come to a standstill for seniors due to coronavirus closures.
As the holidays quickly approach, so does the increased risk of loneliness and their related health impacts for our nation’s most vulnerable. Finding new and creative ways to interact and connect with our loved ones from a distance is even more critical now than ever before.
Research demonstrates that those who interact with a neighbor at least once a week are less likely to experience feelings of loneliness. Technology is also another effective way to connect with friends and loved ones from a distance. In fact, 59% of individuals surveyed reported using social media at least once a week, and 31% used video chat.
Bridging the Gap with Technology
Social isolation is not a new battle facing our nation, but the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the severity of its consequences for our senior population. These unprecedented times have presented a unique opportunity to leverage technology and fill the gaps created by physical distancing measures and help seniors combat the negative health effects of loneliness.
Through the utilization of services such as telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM), seniors can receive around-the-clock vital signs and medication monitoring, creating a connection to caregivers and health providers from the safety of their own homes. This level of personalized care brings comfort and peace of mind to seniors living with chronic health conditions.
For thousands of hospitals and physician practices battling the coronavirus pandemic, remote patient monitoring and telehealth services have become essential tools in keeping patients and health care workers safe. These solutions help bridge the gap between patients and their care providers through text-based outreach, online health and wellness programs, and virtual visits for patients managing chronic conditions. The pandemic has clearly demonstrated the necessity for telehealth and its ability to improve safety and efficiency while managing care in the home or outside traditional clinical settings.
Connected health solutions, such as remote patient monitoring (RPM), medication management, and personal emergency response systems (PERS) help patients engage and connect with the appropriate care, providing support, and address feelings of isolation.
Patients who have used remote patient monitoring report better access and improved quality of care, increased engagement rates, and a higher level of satisfaction. Additional benefits include lower hospitalization rates, reduced ER visits, and better peace of mind.
In addition to the many benefits of connected care solutions, Connect America’s upcoming mobile application helps reduce feelings of social isolation in seniors. The application provides users with a personalized profile for a customizable experience.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, telehealth solutions are benefiting seniors and enabling them to experience enhanced quality care, lowered risk of social isolation, and restored peace of mind from the comfort of their homes. They have become an essential prescription for connecting care and bridging the gap between health care systems, providers, and patients.
Steve Abate is the Executive Vice President of the Healthcare Division of Connect America. Headquartered in Bala Cynwyd, PA with regional offices nationwide, Connect America offers a growing portfolio of leading medical alert systems, remote patient monitoring, and medication management solutions. With products and services designed to improve patient outcomes and contain the rising costs of healthcare, Connect America has been partnering with Medicare Advantage, Area Agencies on Aging, managed care organizations, home care, hospitals and many other healthcare organizations to deliver cutting-edge healthcare technologies to patients and individuals nationally for more than 35 years.