It’s been widely reported that seniors and those with underlying health conditions are at greatest risk for severe illness or dying from COVID-19.
According to the CDC, eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the U.S. have been among adults aged 65 and older. However, what’s not talked about as much is how months-long social isolation can be just as deadly as the virus itself, particularly for the 14 million seniors who live alone and continue to shelter in place.
Socially isolated seniors experience more rapid progression of heart disease and dementia and are more likely to die compared to those with high levels of social support. Tragically, research suggests that social isolation has the same effect on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
I recently published an article on this topic in Kevin.md that covers four key ways we can help our seniors through this pandemic:
- Pick up the phone. Healthcare providers need to take a proactive approach in managing seniors’ chronic illnesses. That means reaching out by phone to seniors most likely to get sick, treating at the earliest signs of worsening disease and addressing barriers to health, such as the inability to pick up medications.
- Get creative. We should invest in creative ways to meet the health needs of seniors, including senior-friendly telehealth devices and platforms, and in-home care delivery models.
- Get social. We need to socially engage with seniors—for example, by talking on the phone with them and helping them get their groceries and medications.
- Don’t put off difficult discussions. Now more than ever, we need to have end-of-life conversations with our parents and grandparents, and healthcare professionals need to have these talks with their elderly patients.
The surge in demand on our healthcare system due to COVID-19 is leading many—seniors included—to delay valuable preventive and maintenance care. Let’s not wait for the worst. By intervening now, we could save a life tomorrow.
_Jason Bae, MD
About the author:
Dr. Jason Bae is the Medical Director of Prealize Health.