Resources for Combating Loneliness Amongst Older Adults
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, experts have warned that older adults are a particularly susceptible population. Not only are they at risk of the virus due to weaker immune systems and chronic conditions, but social distancing guidelines have exacerbated the public health crisis of social isolation. A new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine found that nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated1. Social isolation is closely related to loneliness, which can lead to negative health consequences such as an increased risk for heart disease, depression, dementia, and even death1. Even before the pandemic, loneliness amongst older adults was a serious public health issue associated with considerable morbidity and mortality, comparable to established risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, and frailty2.
There are resources available for older adults who are experiencing isolation and loneliness. Below is a list of national and local organizations that offer assistance for seniors experiencing loneliness and isolation.
Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) is a network of over 620 organizations nationwide and provides information and assistance, such as nutrition and meal programs and caregiver support. See Aging & Independence Services below.
Eldercare Locator is a free national service for seniors looking for resources in staying engaged in meaningful activities, including volunteer opportunities in the community and local activities.
National Council on Aging works with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and governments to provide local programs and services. Seniors can access programs for healthy aging and to increase social connectedness.
AARP provides information to help older adults improve their quality of life through community connection tools. Specifically, AARP offers an Isolation Assessment from Connect2Affect that can identify risk factors and offer recommendations for getting more connected.
Aging & Independence Services (AIS) is the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for San Diego County. The AIS website has resources to assist with social isolation, including the Get Connected guide that allows older adults to stay connected while at home.
City of San Diego AgeWell Services provides local events, resources, and programs for older adults. A “Social Calls Program” offers comfort and conversation through daily check-in calls during weekday mornings.
Friendship Line California is a free hotline and a warmline for non-emergency emotional support calls.
San Diego Oasis creates opportunities for meaningful dialogue and deep thinking about current events as well as provides socialization, active living, and intergenerational community initiatives through classes and various events.
Beyond these resources, loneliness and isolation can be combated with the benefits of staying connected. Research studies suggest that social engagement may slow cognitive decline. Studies also show that improved cardiovascular outcomes and increased immunity to infectious diseases are associated with an active social life. Things seniors can do stay connected include:
Communication via phone calls, video calls, and emails with friends and family provide a variety of ways for interaction and connection. In addition to virtual connection, some may choose to visit face-to-face. While it is still encouraged to stay safe at home, older adults can connect with others in person if they take precautions, such as practicing social distancing (staying six feet apart at all times), wearing a mask, only meeting outdoors, and limiting time in the presence of those not in the same household. Some things seniors can try is setting up socially-distanced coffee dates or walking pets in community parks with friends.
Lastly, senior living communities, such as assisted living homes can play a major role in decreasing loneliness perceived amongst seniors. Having many ways for residents to meet people can make the lives of older adults in these communities socially rich.
The feeling of connection and belonging is important for older adults and can greatly impact health in a positive way. There are many national and local organizations and resources available to connect older adults with much-needed engagement opportunities and resources. Use the links above as a way to build connections or help a friend or loved one become more socially connected.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2020. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. https://doi.org/10.17226/25663.
National Library of Medicine, 2020. Social Isolation and Loneliness: The New Geriatric Giants: Approach for Primary Care. https://www.cfp.ca/content/66/3/176.long.