The following article by WelbeHealth CEO Si France was printed in the Summer 2020 San Joaquin Physician Magazine.
“With so much attention focused on the immediate threat to life posed by Covid-19, another devastating consequence of the virus hasn’t been discussed enough: the further social isolation of the vulnerable seniors in our community.
Loneliness is not merely an emotional health issue, but a major risk factor for seniors’ physical health. The health risks associated with isolation are comparable to the risk of hypertension, smoking, or obesity. Numerous studies have found that social isolation leads to significantly higher risk of dementia, stroke, cardiovascular disease and other serious ailments.
Making things worse, our best efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus have closed many of the outlets where seniors are able to enjoy social activities. Most senior centers, day centers, libraries, parks and other venues have shuttered indefinitely. Many nursing homes, which have tragically become hotbeds for the spread of the virus, have barred all visitors, including close family members. Frail seniors are often less comfortable using the video chat technologies that have connected many of us during this time, or don’t have access to the required devices or home internet.
Millions of seniors around the country were suffering from loneliness and social isolation before the pandemic. Under our current circumstances, it’s only getting worse. Even as social distancing requirements and stay-at-home orders are relaxed over the coming months, frail seniors will remain at high risk if they contract the virus, and guidelines may continue to encourage the senior population to self-isolate well into the future.
Senior care providers can be part of the solution. At WelbeHealth, our PACE programs provide not just medical care but group activities, games, and meals to seniors in our day center. As the pandemic escalated, we rapidly shifted to a home-based model, providing a video-enabled tablet to every participant. This telehealth technology has allowed us not only to manage seniors’ medical needs in a safer environment but to resume our social and recreational activities remotely. For many of our participants, a video chat with a nurse or a game of trivia with one of our activities coordinators may be the only social interaction they have in a day.
Other programs serving vulnerable seniors around the country have stepped up as well. Meals on Wheels, for example, has expanded its offerings to include wellness checks with seniors over the phone. This type of outreach can help keep seniors socially engaged while also physically distanced to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
But you don’t need to be a medical professional or a social worker to help seniors during the time of Covid-19. With so many people facing social isolation, there’s never been a better time to reach out to an elder family member or neighbor. Pick up the phone to check in and say hello. Find a pen and paper and send a hand-written letter. Consider assisting with shopping or helping place an order for grocery delivery. These individual actions might feel small, but they’re more important than ever these days. You could not only brighten a senior’s day but have a meaningful impact on their physical health and well-being.
Si France, MD”
Click here for the full magazine.
To learn more about the services included in PACE, click here.