Risks of social isolation for older adults following COVID-19 pandemic and how to combat it

Tamala Edwards Image
Thursday, March 16, 2023
Risks of social isolation for older adults and how to combat it
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Humans are social beings and during times of increased stress or grief, interacting with others becomes crucial - especially in older adults.

WYNNEWOOD, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Humans are social beings and during times of increased stress or grief, interacting with others becomes crucial - especially in older adults.

These important connections are a must for both our physical and mental well-being.

Tom Giudice was just coming out of mourning his wife's death when the pandemic hit. Fortunately, shortly before she passed, the couple had adopted a puppy.

"She's been my companion and confidant," he said.

Although the dog was good company, he says he still missed his children and grandchildren.

Dr. Laura Picciano of Main Line Health says social isolation at any time is dangerous.

''It really interferes with very many aspects of our health, whether it be our mental health and even our physical health. Especially in elderly adults, we know that this is a huge public health risk," says Dr. Picciano.

She notes that one out of four adults age 65 and over are socially isolated and that studies show it rivals the dangers from smoking, obesity, and lack of physical activity in shortening lives. It also raises dementia risks 50%.

"We see more usage of substances, whether it be street drugs, or even alcohol," she adds.

Dr. Picciano says primary care doctors like her can see clues in a patient's appearance, or their homes.

"Are they looking more unkempt, do they look like they're losing weight, maybe gaining weight at a rapid rate from overeating, from depression - again, the condition of the home," she said.

When doctors know, they can connect patients to mental health care, or resources to build new social connections.

Volunteering may be the easiest way. Just ask Trudy Mitchell and Gloria Rogers.

"Fourteen years," said Gloria.

"And I've been volunteering 27 years," added Trudy.

Both now work at the Sun Lounge, the outpatient surgery family waiting area. They keep relatives or friends up-to-date on the surgical status of their loved ones.

"A lot of families need someone they can talk to," said

"I look forward to coming in. It's just it's a nice feeling to be able to help people," said

Their time at Lankenau Medical Center helps the community and has created a friendship that's seen them through personal ups and downs.

It's probably lengthened their lives, too. Gloria is 82, Trudy is 87.

Tom, meanwhile, is grateful that the COVID vaccine helped break his isolation.

"To get together with my grandkids and give them a hug for the first time in about nine months. That was thrilling," he said.