Due to the devastating health affects, Social isolation cannot become the new normal,’ senators say during Aging Committee hearing
Although social distancing has become a “core tool in our effort to save lives and help flatten the curve of COVID-19, social isolation cannot become the new normal, especially for our older adults population,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said Thursday during a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which she is chairman.
The hearing, titled “Combating Social Isolation and Loneliness During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” focused a spotlight on the adverse health effects prolonged social isolation and loneliness can have on older adults, including those who live in senior living communities.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), ranking member of the committee, noted that more than 40% of all COVID-19 deaths nationwide have been either residents or workers in long-term care settings.
“Those who have recovered from the virus or who are trying to remain healthy are isolated from their family and friends,” he said. “It is interaction with our loved ones that sustains all of us. Seniors are living and dying, often scared and alone, due to this virus.”
Witness Carla Perissinotto, M.D., MHS, associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco says “Loneliness and isolation are a national and global public health problem whose widespread effects are more pressing now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” adding that the health effects can increase the risk of premature mortality and contribute to a 50% increased risk of developing dementia.
“Seemingly overnight, we saw our social structures dissolve as we were all forced to socially distance ourselves,” she said. “The challenge of all of this is that to potentially protect our health now we may be worsening our health and shortening our life expectancy in the future.”
Social Isolation - "The Silent Epidemic"
“The silent epidemic has devastating physical and emotional health effects by increasing the risk of stroke, heart disease, depression and dementia,” Collins said. “As the pandemic continues and the epidemic of loneliness and isolation worsens, we run the risk of an infectious disease causing a mental health crisis.”
Thursday’s hearing highlighted a report, “Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults,” from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and funded by the AARP Foundation.
He called loneliness, helplessness and boredom a “plague" and it poses extreme challenges especially in residential care communities, including assisted living and group homes. He said it’s important to find ways to keep older adults connected to family and community.
Najja Orr, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, said senior nutrition programs, like home-delivered and congregate meal programs, “provide isolated seniors with a regular form of social engagement through safety checks, and a friendly neighbor to engage with.”
Congress is taking steps to combat isolation, including the Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020 signed into law by President Donald Trump on 3.25.20 includes grants specifically to combat social isolation and improve multigenerational collaboration.
Casey said work to address the needs of seniors during the pandemic also is being addressed by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, as well as the Coronavirus Relief for Seniors and People with Disabilities Act all signed by President Trump in March.
I guess we have to ask ourselves, which is worse, the virus or the health affects of lockdowns?
what are your thoughts?