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Combating Loneliness During COVID

-Laura Kiniry & Beth Popolizio, PT, DPT


We all know loneliness. And right now we are all experiencing a level of social isolation previously unfelt. While the emotional tolls are undeniable, there are significant physical health concerns that often go unrecognized. According to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) social isolation is correlated to increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations. It has also shown to increase risk of developing chronic conditions, like dementia and coronary artery disease. The Loneliness and Social Isolation Issue Brief, published in June 2019 by Humana, recognizes that U.S seniors are one of the “highest risk groups for social isolation and loneliness, [and is only] growing as baby boomers age and people live longer.” So with COVID-19 making harder for everyone to stay connected, seniors and those with disabilities may be finding it even harder to maintain social engagement. So the question being asked by innovators and experts is, how do we keep those individuals connected and mitigate the risks of loneliness and isolation?


Even prior to the pandemic, the senior care space is abound with novel and innovative was for people, especially seniors or those with disabilities, to reengage with our new social circumstances. Along with addressing ways to identify symptoms of loneliness, the Loneliness and Social Isolation Issue Brief also listed programs aimed at assuring that both elderly and disabled populations have opportunities to connect with others—and the outside world—from home.


One such program is SilverSneakers, a health and fitness membership organization specifically designed to meets the needs of people over 65. that Where SilverSneakers stands out is how well it works for any fitness level, making it just as worthwhile for someone trying out yoga for the first time as it is for someone who still walks six miles a day. SilverSneakers also works in conjunction with many Medicare plans, making it financially accessibly to a broader population of seniors. Virtual classes are currently hosted both real-time via Zoom video conferencing and on-demand and include workouts like circuit training, strength and balance, and cardio dance. They also offer wellness workshops covering topics like gratitude and senior nutrition.


If companionship is of concern, Care.Coach offering creative ways to integrate companionship and chronic care management. Care.Coach’s platform utilizes virtual avatars, such as simulated dogs and cats, to provide a sense of amity through a specialized tablet to anyone suffering from chronic loneliness or an advanced health issue, like diabetes. Patients simply talk to the tablet using their own voice and receive non-clinical (and non-judgmental) psychosocial support from an insured team of health advocates, 24/7. Care.coach can provide daily reminders of things like exercise goals and scheduled appointments, and utilizes software algorithms to help patients self-manage chronic conditions. For example, it may suggest ways to handle pain or discomfort following a knee replacement, including things like when to use ice packs and simple exercises geared toward recovery.


Over at AARP, seniors can find a handy tutorial on using Zoom to connect with their family and friends via the popular video platform, or to partake in other social activities like virtual book clubs and game nights. The tutorial is a collaboration with Senior Planet, a branch of Older Adults Technology Services that aims to help seniors empower themselves technically through a series of online courses in everything from digital museum tours to navigating YouTube. Want to learn to make face masks at home? Do a bit of creative writing? Senior Planet makes it all easily accessible through both your computer and phone.


For those who may not already have access to electronics, the newly created TeleHealth Access for Seniors has recently begun donating video-enabled devices such as iPhones (4+), iPads, Androids, and tablets to seniors across the country, along with detailed guides on how to use apps such as FaceTime and pharmacy delivery services, and free-tech support.


Sometimes, though, there is no substitute for actual human care. At TheraCare our goal is to provide a bridge between medical and home care by creating a technology-enhanced care plan. We are partnering with a variety of organizations specializing in everything from home safety monitoring to chronic care management programs to offer care options allowing people to most appropriately and effectively meet their individual needs.


These options open up avenues for people to access their communities. With the variety that exists, there is something for everyone. Contact us at TheraCare to see how we can help find what's right for you and your family.

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