Aging and Loneliness During COVID

Aging and Loneliness During COVID

The COVID pandemic has created new challenges and hardships for people everywhere around the world.  In one shape or form, the pandemic has affected our lives and we continue to adjust to the “new normal”.

The COVID pandemic has exacerbated social isolation and loneliness for older adults living both in the community and in long term care facilities.  From impacts to their mental and physical health to even accelerating their overall decline leading to their untimely demise.

According to a report by AARP, social isolation and loneliness are a serious yet underappreciated public health problem that affect a significant portion of the population. “Approximately one-quarter (24 percent) of community-dwelling Americans aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated, and a significant proportion of adults in the United States report feeling lonely (35 percent of adults aged 45 and older and 43 percent of adults aged 60 and older) (Anderson and Thayer, 2018Cudjoe et al., 2020Perissinotto et al., 2012). In spite of some challenges related to the measurement of social isolation and loneliness, current evidence suggests that many older adults are socially isolated or lonely (or both) in ways that put their health at risk.”

The mandated lockdowns in nursing homes and communities around the world have led to major hurdles in the ability to stay socially connected.  For many older adults, who lack the access and/or familiarity with online and virtual methods of socializing, it left them without any way to connect with others outside of their home.  From the ending of communal meals and group activities and outside visitors to social distancing at home, life was greatly altered for those that already lived with limited opportunities for socializing.

  • As it turns out, socializing is essential for our health. Social isolation has been associated with a 29 percent increased risk of mortality and a 25 percent increased risk of cancer mortality (Fleisch Marcus et al., 2017Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015).  Loneliness has been associated with higher rates of clinically significant depression, anxiety , and suicidal ideation (Beutel et al., 2017).  Loneliness has been associated with a 59 percent increased risk of functional decline and 45 percent increased risk of death (Perissinotto et al., 2012);
  • Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) have been associated with a 29 percent increased risk of incident coronary heart disease and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke (Valtorta et al., 2016a);
  • Loneliness among heart failure patients has been associated with a nearly four times increased risk of death, 68 percent increased risk of hospitalization, and 57 percent increased risk of emergency department visits (Manemann et al., 2018); and
  • Social isolation has been associated with an approximately 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia (Kuiper et al., 2015Penninkilampi et al., 2018).
  • Social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of mortality from all causes, a risk that may rival the risks of smoking, obesity, and physical activity (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2017);
  • Being socially connected in a variety of ways is associated with having a 50 percent greater likelihood of survival, with some indicators of social integration being associated with a 91 percent greater likelihood of survival (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010);

Older adults continue to be faced with the challenges of the pandemic and the need for social connectedness.  There are online resources for those that are able to connect virtually through Dorot (a not-for-profit that addresses the needs of socially isolated older adults) and the National Council on Aging.

A professional caregiver is a great solution for older adults and aging parents who are socially isolated and alone.  Our company provides caregivers who wear masks, are fully vaccinated, and would provide conversation, play cards, look through photo albums, along with a variety of other services to assist the person at home.  You can learn more about our services by clicking here.

Jennifer Benjamin
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