Prior to COVID-19 more than one in four adults between the ages of 50–80 felt isolated according to Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF), an organization that supports the entertainment industry community in living and aging well, and the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging. Social isolation and loneliness only increased with the pandemic. That is why MPTF and Milken joined forces to host the Social Isolation Impact Summit (you can rewatch the summit here).
Social Isolation Definition and Impact
Often social isolation is brushed aside as something insignificant. However, scientific research shows that we should be paying more attention to social isolation as it can increase mortality rates by almost 50%!
A person is usually defined as being socially isolated if he or she is disengaged from social ties, institutional connections, and/or participating in a community. As people age, this becomes a greater and greater risk factor as with life changes people may move, have limited mobility, or even pass on.
The US National Library of Medicine via the National Institutes of Health has several studies that show that social isolation can lead individuals to have higher mortality rates. Social isolation ends up affecting not just one’s social and mental health but can lead to physical health issues as well. Therefore, it is not a matter to continually brush off.
The Summit’s Goal
The Summit brought together 25+ speakers to provide innovative ideas, services, and inspiration to help reduce loneliness among older adults and about 1,000 people tuned in virtually. The virtual attendees were actively trading ideas, insights, and sharing tips to help reduce loneliness among older adults both for pandemic times and in the future.
It is no secret that COVID-19 exposed the inequities that older adults face in care and opportunities across the US. The most inspiring fact about the summit was that speakers and participants came together with empathy and a real sense of community to focus on the opportunities they had to work together to improve the lives of the older adults in their organizations and across the country.
Addressing these issues is a community effort not just of those wanting to help but also of those who need help according to Lisa Marsh Ryerson from the AARP Foundation. That means that communities need to be inclusive and provide space for all people. Local communities are an essential part of senior communities that can expand to communities across the country and through digital platforms.
Crises Force People to Rising to the Occasion
Many services and tools have gone into full-drive to provide services to seniors who were often isolated from one day to the next for health reasons. Major issues across the country surfaced quickly — from isolation to the inability to use food stamps online.
Dr. Dora Hughes, a former policy advisor and ongoing public health advocate, from George Washington University stated, “The public health approach is critical. This is not just about the services that need to be provided, but what do we do at a community level to address some of these issues.”
The summit addressed issues like seniors and older adults that are not a part of the healthcare system many of whom not only face a lack of access to medical services but who were facing food shortages as well.
Sam Polk, a former hedge fund trader, founded Everytable to make healthy foods available to those with low incomes. According to his research, the life expectancy of those living with limited incomes is 10 years lower than more affluent areas, and diseases like obesity and diabetes are alarmingly high since fast food and unhealthy options are often the cheapest options. While his work focuses mostly on the LA area. Other resources and call centers are available and helping seniors to find local food source options like Meals on Wheels or other local services.
Hughes said, “The unfortunate reality is we spent twice as much on healthcare services as opposed to health and social services. And we really need to flip the script on that and really make sure we are assuring up our social safety net just as we think of our medical safety net.”
Social safety nets are essential to even learning some of the concerns facing seniors. The Friendship Line is the Institute on Aging’s 24-hour toll-free Friendship Line and the only accredited crisis line in the country for people aged 60 years and older, and adults living with disabilities. Their trained volunteers specialize in offering a caring ear and having a friendly conversation with depressed older adults as being sad or depressed do not have to be aspects of aging — if the right support networks are in place. This hotline, like many others across the country, often are prime resources to learn of issues older adults are facing.
There were many participants at the summit to trade ideas and insights like fellow participant Ilyse Veron, Chief of Communications and Head of US Strategic Partnerships for Darmiyan. Darmiyan is a Nobel Laureate approved technology, developed via Y Combinator, and working with the Centre on Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CABHI) on validation for use in early detection and monitoring of Alzheimer’s disease through its virtual microscope. Darmiyan recognizes the importance of continuous learning to enhance neuroplasticity. When its platform is used in drug trials, the Eisai-supported work may lead to real breakthroughs in research on Alzheimer’s therapies. The tool is expected to enable medical providers to help patients with memory problems or who are at risk for dementia to understand and prepare for the future.
Veron was especially inspired by Dr. Jeremy Nobel with his unique approach to combining the arts and medicine.
Nobel said, “The arts have been with us a long time and it’s not an accident.” That’s what led him to be an active member of The Foundation for Art and Healing. This organization strives to explore the important connection between creativity, caring, and connection through the arts as an asset to medical treatments. Currently one of their projects is the Unlonely Film Festival. A film festival based on staying calm, being creative, and establishing a connection through the creation and enjoyment of short films together.
Connection — has to Focus on what Seniors Need
Together all the speakers focused on the idea that connection cannot focus on what people want to give but needs to focus on what seniors truly need.
Seniors want to connect through technology according to Ryerson. Teaching how to use these tools is essential in order to empower these seniors to use the tools with confidence and limited frustrations. According to Ryerson, “Technology needs to be designed with seniors, not for them.”
GetSetUp agrees with this philosophy that is why their Guides are older adults over 50 who are an essential asset in creating class content and the topics selected for classes. Older adult learners can come and learn basic to advanced technology skills, how to use apps or a variety of other fun and engaging topics. Guides, who are all older adults, teach their peers and are able to understand where their peers are coming from, in a stress-free live learning environment. Plus research has shown that older adults prefer to learn from other older adults. And who better to address the needs of seniors than seniors themselves?
Many health plans and care facilities are providing some access to technology, while other seniors have private devices. No matter one’s financial situation according to Veron, “I would wager that creative, lifelong learners are more able to adopt new technology regardless of their financial situation.”
Life long learners are passionate about GetSetUp classes which are taught 1–1 or in small groups to add a peer community element and make pricing more accessible. GetSetUp knows that local community access right now can be limited. That’s why to fight social isolation and loneliness they are building community virtually through free social hours and peer sharing skills opportunities after classes.
Why not join the virtual GetSetUp community and take a free interactive group class of your choice to get started? The community starts with you!