Social Isolation in Elderly: Here’ How COVID-19 is Affecting our Aging Adults!

Social Isolation in Elderly
07 Dec, 2020

• COVID-19 has changed things for every person, be it on the personal or professional level.

• Due to lockdowns, people have been forced to remain indoors and experience social isolation, resulting in negative health outcomes.

• This particularly is true in the case of older adults since loneliness and social isolation lead to a disrupted physical and mental health, and since the elderly do not have a healthy immune system like adults, they’re affected the most.

Impact of COVID-19 on our Aging Population

• The CDC National Center for Health Statistics’ death certificate data revealed, 78% of deaths related to COVID-19 in the U.S. constituted elderly, aged 65 and above, and those that had other comorbidities

• A majority of the elderly suffer from some kind of underlying conditions like respiratory illness, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or other comorbidities, which is known to increase the risk of developing severe COVID-19 illness, including death.

• During a WHO press briefing, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, stated, “Older adults are at a significantly increased risk of severe disease following infection from COVID-19.”

• In the United States, approximately 39% of deaths related to COVID-19 were witnessed in long-term care settings, or nursing homes exposing them to infection.

• It is not just that the elderly are victims only but serving too in the form of caregivers, health workers, and more.

• 1 out of 6 elderly was subject to abuse in 2017 and due to the pandemic, it has resulted in greater abuse and neglect among them.

Available Interventions

1. Telephonic Reassurance and Engagement

• Due to COVID-19, services and face-to-face initiatives have been altered telephonically or through the internet to prevent the elderly from contracting the virus.

• This includes clinicians, social workers, health workers, and other professionals to make calls over the telephone to the elderly to identify their needs, offer a socializing opportunity, link them to available services/resources, engage them cognitively, and check on their overall well-being.

• An example of an inter-sectorial clinical community example during COVID-19 related to telephonic reassurance and engagement involves a Maryland pilot.

• During this effort, volunteers and care coordinators are used at an Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for calling elderly who are suggested by local clinical partners for services or are senior center members.

• Integrated into multiple talking points and measures is the Upstream Social Isolation Risk Screener (U-SIRS). It is in an interview format and completed telephonically in Maryland. Using the 13-item brief screener, the U-SIRS measures higher social isolation risk amongst community-dwelling elderly and links them to relevant programs, services, and resources.

• Upon completion, responses of the elderly are used for generating a customized report in real-time for the purpose of saving and sharing with others. A stoplight analogy is used to identify the risk level {(red for high), (yellow for medium), and (green for low)}.

• The community navigator during the pandemic reviews the list of suggested services/programs, prioritizes them as per the need and availability, and supports to make linkages to local resources and services that best match elderly needs.

2. Virtual Program and Service Delivery

• During the pandemic, physical delivery of evidence-based health/wellness programs has for the time being ceased. These programs offer elderly access to superior home and community-based support for preventing falls, supporting caregivers, encouraging physical activity, promoting mental health, and self-managing manifold chronic conditions.

• Normally delivered in a variety of settings (e.g., senior centers, healthcare organizations, faith-based organizations, residential facilities), these programs provide the elderly with the support and valuable information, along with boosting the ability to make social interactions possible with peers.

• To deliver evidence-based services and programs virtually, a synchronized set of factsheets, resources, webinars, toolkits, etc., have been provided to help firms spin their efforts.

• An example of an evidence-based program translated for virtual delivery is the Program to Encourage Active, Rewarding Lives (PEARLS). It is suitable for the COVID-19 situation since it deals with later-life depression symptoms, considered as risk factors.

• PEARLS is by tradition a home-based model for collaborative care that helps in the training of front-line social service providers for teaching activity planning and problem-solving skills to help the elderly craft a “new normal” while they age to reduce depression symptoms and enhance social connections through relationships and activities using video-conferencing, phone, or mailed materials.

3. Discussion and Refinements

• Existing and rising efforts to battle social isolation can be tactically refined to fight the COVID-19 Social Connectivity Paradox. In this unparalleled physical distancing time, providers of every type are identifying the service accessibility limits and are developing innovative solutions.

• The significance of screening for limited connectedness and social isolation cannot be underscored. Most of the measures were framed in non-COVID times and are static.

• So, efforts are required to understand better how to recalibrate the identified risk sensitivity with these evaluations in the background of restricted social interaction and pandemic precautions.

• Also, instead of using a single measure for associated connectivity issues or social isolation during COVID-19, several measures must be employed at the same time to have a clear view of the older adult’s social isolation and the related needs.

• The merits of distanced connectivity via virtual interactions/service delivery and telephone are undeniable. But, such teleservices are not necessarily available to marginalized and/or older underserved communities and social service organizations.

• For many elderly, having access to a dependable internet connection is limited, and former connectivity sources like senior centers and libraries are unavailable.

• Even if there is access, obstacles exist for the elderly when it comes to using technology, including negative attitudes regarding ease of technology use, security concerns, and limited technological literacy.


• To sum up, social isolation is a big challenge for the elderly that has manifested in the wake of COVID-19. There is no denying that there are organizations that are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to ensuring total support and care to the elderly through virtual communications.

• But, there is a need to look for risk factors and make sure they do not lead to serious consequences. For this, one must take care of the elderly in the home or neighbourhood and be in regular touch with them during the pandemic.

• If any health issues arise, virtual assistant or physical treatment must be set at the earliest from a leading healthcare provider like Central Valley Medical Providers.

For more details on how to become a member of Central Valley Medical Providers or utilize their network through one of their contracted health plans, you may reach out to our Customer Service Department executives at (877) 216-4215/local: 559.450.6334.