Out of sight must not be out of mind

Social isolation and loneliness were serious threats to the health of older people even before COVID-19. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has “brought these social determinants of health to the forefront, exposing and magnifying the issue. We all now understand in some sense what it’s like to be isolated.”

Those are the words of Richard Carmona, MD, MPH, FACS, who was the 17th Surgeon General of the United States and is a distinguished professor at the University of Arizona, and William Shrank, MD, MSHS, who is the chief medical officer of Humana. They wrote an opinion piece that appeared this week on the Morning Consult website.

“Many of these older adults were facing significant challenges that were impacting their health long before the pandemic,” they wrote. “Take social isolation and loneliness, which disproportionately impact seniors, and have been shown to influence both physical and mental health. In fact, lonely or socially isolated older adults are four times more likely to be re-hospitalized within a year of discharge. One study suggests that feeling lonely is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

“Older adults need our help to stay healthy and engaged during the coronavirus pandemic, ensuring that social isolation or loneliness does not impede their ability to stay both physically and mentally healthy. Many will deal with anxiety well after the initial pandemic wave passes and need more than reassurance. They’ll be hesitant to re-enter society, especially if the pandemic re-emerges in the fall or winter. For them, adjusting to the ‘new normal’ will not be easy.”

Read the full article here.

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