Know a Socially Isolated Senior Citizen? Here’s How You Can Help

There are more than 320,000 Kansas City citizens 65 years or older. That’s more than 15 percent of the city’s population. Social isolation is an increasing concern as the COVID-19 shutdown continues. Isolation goes further than just being alone; it can also mean folks struggling with basic needs such as accessing food, pharmacy refills, and managing health concerns on their own.

According to the American Health Information Management Association, social isolation has been linked to increases in chronic conditions, emergency department visits, hospitalizations and nursing home placements.

How do we help those those 65+ be a part of a community? We asked our friends at Partners in Primary Care—the city’s first senior-focused neighborhood primary care group—for their thoughts.

Why can social isolation be so devastating for seniors?
“One of the most important ways to prevent COVID-19 is staying at home as much as possible. While this isolation is important to prevent infection with COVID-19 illness, isolation (or loneliness) can also lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, alcohol/substance overuse, and even suicide.

With COVID-19 isolation, we have also seen patients who have been afraid to go to ER’s with acute illnesses such as heart attacks, strokes, and pneumonia. Seniors may also delay visits for preventive health care and/or screenings such as immunizations, lab work, mammograms, or colonoscopies, which will prove to be more problematic the longer the need for COVID isolation continues.” – Stephen Salanski, MD, medical director, Partners in Primary Care

What’s the best way to be proactive to help out someone who might be struggling?
“Just one simple check-in can make a huge difference in someone’s world. It’s important to ensure people are still receiving medications, accessing to food and water, and are feeling okay overall. It’s also a great chance to talk with them and offer reminders of what is open and available to them during the pandemic. It needs to be understood that living in an ever-changing situation can be unsettling and continuing to offer support to them whether by phone, video, or face-to-face is essential” – Amber Eastabrooks, BSN, RN, care management supervisor, Partners in Primary Care

 “It is important to keep seniors connected to family and friends. A telephone call to check-in every day or two is a simple way of staying connected. If an in-person visit is desired, be certain that both persons are not feeling ill, do not have a fever, have not had recent exposure to anyone having COVID-illness symptoms, wear facemasks, sanitize hands, do not share food or drink, and always maintain at least six feet of physical distancing (air-hugs only). This in-person visit is safest if it lasts less than 15 minutes and is done outdoors.

When visiting or checking-in, encourage seniors to maintain a daily routine—including regular mealtimes, perhaps meditation or prayer or reading time, and getting physical activity, such as walking (indoors or outdoors) if they are able. Watching Chiefs football is something that most Kansas Citians can look forward to! Be sure that seniors have enough food and their prescribed medications (and that they are taking those meds). It is important to watch for signs of substance use or depression.” – Salanski

The pandemic likely isn’t going away anytime soon – how do we continue to be mindful of that?
“This ‘new normal’ may be around for a while, so it’s important to have plans for staying active and connected with others for at least the next few months. Social isolation can become an even bigger problem as the winter months approach, when depression is already more common. One of the things our teams have been doing is connecting patients with both internal and external community resources, which have robust virtual programming options. We encourage everyone to keep a consistent daily routine—even if it’s a new routine, continue normal exercise habits and remember to keep doing the things that they find joy in!” – Eastabrooks

What does Partners in Primary Care bring to the table?
“Because of our focus on holistic health care for seniors, at Partners in Primary Care (PIPC) we are taking the lead in ensuring that our senior patients do not feel a negative impact from social isolation during this COVID-19 pandemic.

We are partnering with Harvesters to provide emergency food supplies to our patients with food insecurity. We have also shifted from in-person programs typically hosted in the activity centers of our eight Kansas City medical offices to virtual programs such as Silver Sneakers and virtual health Q+As.” – Salanski

“With in-person pharmacy pick up becoming more difficult, we’ve added delivery services and mail-order options for those who qualify. Partners in Primary Care even offers curbside pickup and consultations where patients can interact directly with the pharmacist from the driver’s seat. This is an added bonus for those who also need a bit of company while out running errands.” – Eastabrooks

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