For some time now, organizations and institutions - like Aging Resources of Douglas County - that serve older adults have been examining with the issue of social isolation.
In recent years, social isolation has gained recognition as a public health concern. We know that social connection improves our sense of well-being and is linked to both maintained cognitive function and improved health outcomes. Studies consistently demonstrate that, conversely, the negative ramifications of social isolation are comparable to the health risks associated with high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and smoking. One study by the A.A.R.P. and Stanford University has found that social isolation adds nearly 7 billion dollars a year to the total cost of Medicare.
The pandemic has complicated this already tricky situation, giving rise to a problem called the COVID-19 Social Connectivity Paradox. The idea is that the same actions and strategies that folks have undertaken to reduce the risks of COVID-19 exposure – staying at home, physical distancing, etc. – simultaneously increase the risk of social isolation and disconnectedness.
So, what’s to be done? Members of the social services network supporting older adults are experimenting with a variety of innovative solutions and technologies to help mitigate social isolation. In some states, aging departments have distributed “Joy for All” robot pets. These cuddly companions are making a difference – a study last year found that older adults who engaged with their new pet for two months reported feeling a greater sense of purpose and more optimistic. Other social robots being tested with older adults include EllieQ and Jibo. You can read more about those in this interesting article from the New Yorker.
Here at Aging Resources, we’re trying out new programs, too. We continue to explore how to best fit our companionship services to the present moment and to your needs. We now offer hybrid companionship programming. If you and your companion are both vaccinated and are comfortable meeting in person, great! If a more virtual model seems better right now, we’re more than happy to provide you with a device that allows you to connect with your companion, family, and friends remotely. We’ll also provide personalized training to make sure you’re getting the most out of your device. Technology training is also available from our good friends at Douglas County Libraries.
We want to hear from you. What strategies do you use to deal with loneliness? Have you found any technologies especially useful? Is there more that we could be doing to help older adults stay connected and socially engaged? Share your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for reading!
Engelhart, Katie. “What Robots Can—and Can’t—Do for the Old and Lonely,” The New Yorker, May 24, 2021.
Smith, Matthew, Steinman, Lesley, and Casey, E.A. “Combatting Social Isolation Among Older Adults in a Time of Physical Distancing: The COVID-19 Social Connectivity Paradox,” Frontiers in Public Health, 8.403.