Area Agency on Aging of Broward County
The extremely contagious nature of COVID-19 has caused strict stay-in-home or “shelter at home” and social distancing policies around the world. The policies require people to stay home as much as possible and to keep a minimum of six feet away from others who do not live in the same home. Covid-19 social distancing requirements have had a tremendous impact on day-to-day living and activities. Older adults in the community are staying home, and if possible, opting for food delivery, instead of going to the grocery store. Nursing facilities are restricting visitors and redesigning activities to conform to social distancing guidelines. Active older adults who were used to meeting up for congregate meals, attending adult day programs, or volunteering at a local non-profit are now spending most of their time in the home with little interaction with the outside world.
The impact of loneliness and social isolation have been associated with increased risk for several chronic conditions, including dementia (64 percent increase), stroke (32 percent increase), and coronary artery disease (29 percent increase). Social isolation has also been linked to increases in emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and nursing home placements. The deep emotional impact of social isolation and loneliness can lead to social disorders such as depression and anxiety. While social distancing requirements of the pandemic may cause negative effects on people of all ages, research shows that those negative impacts, combined with chronic health conditions can lead to a high rate of morbidity among older adults. The “epidemic” of loneliness is increasingly recognized as a social issue, what’s less well recognized is the role loneliness plays as a critical determinant of health. Loneliness can be deadly: this according to former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, among others, who has stressed the significant health threat. Loneliness has been estimated to shorten a person’s life by 15 years, equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day. A recent study revealed a surprising association between loneliness and cancer mortality risk, pointing to the role loneliness plays in cancer’s course, including responsiveness to treatments.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, proactive information sharing can assist the elderly patients with social isolation and the accompanying sense of grief, anxiety, and stress. Outreach services and links to helpful resources can reduce feelings of loneliness and replace them with a sense of inclusion. This time of crisis has resulted in healthcare systems that are overwhelmed by patient demand for services. It is critical to use available technology as a valuable resource to increase the reach of our human outreach capabilities.
Engagement solutions that incorporate behavioral health insights are an effective way to reach older clients. Empathetic communications are also needed to provide the comfort and support that will get them through this crisis. Despite our highly connected world, there are too many Americans who are suffering in silence from social isolation and loneliness.
The Florida Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA) has implemented the following initiatives to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in Florida:
Meals – Before the pandemic, over 45,000 meals a day were provided to older adults throughout Florida. While one-third of these meals were delivered to the homes of those too frail to participate in community activities, the remaining participants received their meals in a congregate setting such as senior centers, community meal sites, and non-residential adult care facilities. The provider now has options such as allowing older adults to come to a meal site and “drive-thru” to pick up meals, or in cases where older people don’t have transportation, the meals are delivered directly to the home. There is no one older adult who received meals in a congregate setting prior to site closures that have not had a meal made available to them during site closures.
Project VITAL (Virtual Inclusive Technology for ALL) – During the time when frail older adults must remain isolated, we must ensure they remain connected with their communities and their loved ones. There are approximately 700 nursing homes and 3,000 assisted living facilities in Florida, with currently 171,000 combined residents. Public entry into nursing homes and assisted living facilities is already severely restricted and visitation has been suspended. The VITAL project will support the well-being of seniors, their families and caregivers by allowing them to remain virtually engaged and connected through specially designed tablets that can access resources like music, books, games and the ability to video chat and email with family outside. The program will also facilitate educational and support opportunities for staff through a video-based learning platform and offer opportunities for virtual and online education and support for families/caregivers at home.
EVIDENCE BASED PROGRAMS-The Area Agency on Aging in partnership with the Florida Department of Affairs, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, is now offering virtual evidence-based classes. The classes will assist in decreasing social isolation and loneliness through an online platform. In addition, the classes which include Tai Chi, Living Healthy, and a Diabetes Self-Management Program have been proven to offer emotional, physical, and mental benefits. For more information, contact the Health and Wellness Coordinator at (954) 745-9567.