Sheltering During Coronavirus
ISOLATION MAY NOT BE GOOD FOR OUR HEALTH
Fraud is not the only danger affecting older adults as they attempt to live through the pandemic. An interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal calls attention to the negative effects that isolation can have on seniors’ physical health, noting that society has not figured out how to keep our elders safe. “For more than 100 days in some places, residents in nursing homes and retirement communities…have been separated from spouses, children, grandchildren and friends of many decades. Residents have been kept apart, eating meals in solitary.” And while the country appears to be Worried woman with head in handshyper-focused on the health benefits of having kids return to school, very little research has been published about the connection between the social isolation of older people and their health and longevity. The piece referenced testimony from a June hearing held by the Senate Special Committee on Aging entitled “Combatting Social Isolation and Loneliness During COVID-19 Pandemic.” Dr. Carla Perissinotto, from UCLA, testified about health effects of isolation in later life. She noted that both isolation and loneliness have an increased risk of all-cause premature mortality, a 50% increased risk of developing dementias (including Alzheimer’s disease), and “when people with heart failure experience loneliness, they have an almost four-fold increased risk of death and a 68% increased risk of hospitalization.” Dr. Peter Reed, from the Sanford Center on Aging at University of Nevada, also testified about an initiative called “NEST Collaborative.” The “Nevada Ensures Support Together” program uses volunteers to provide social support to seniors, which includes calling them twice a week to monitor their needs and enjoy “friendly conversation.” The group also provides tech support to older Nevada residents for help with online social gatherings or connecting with loved ones across the country. As Reed testified, “The check-in calls and peer groups help fulfill one of the most basic needs in an elder’s life: the need to be known by, and meaningfully connected to, other people. Clients of NEST have stated that they are grateful for the services, because without someone calling to check on them, no one may know if they are even still alive.” The WSJ piece and Senate hearing confirm the importance of social contact for seniors who continue to shelter in place.