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COVID-19: Social Distancing Impacts Seniors

With the Nation Mandated to Practice Social Distancing, Those Over 60 May Feel Especially Isolated

For the past two years, more than 450 elderly adults have gathered weekly for Leveraging Exercise to Age in Place, or LEAP, classes led by the Cedars-Sinai Geriatrics Program. But with recent mandates for the nation to practice social distancing -- and in some cases, isolation -- the classes have been postponed, leaving an already vulnerable population feeling especially isolated.

“There is reassurance that comes from having contact with other people, and without it, many elderly may be left feeling scared or alone during this time,” said Allison Moser Mays, MD, MAS, a geriatrician at Cedars-Sinai who leads the LEAP program – a study that is aimed at preventing social isolation and funded by the AARP Foundation.

In fact, Sonja Rosen, MD, FACP, chief of Geriatric Medicine at Cedars-Sinai, said social isolation alone can have the same negative impact on an older adult’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

To combat the ill effects of social distancing and isolation on the elderly during the pandemic, Mays and her team are piloting check-in video and phone calls for LEAP participants and other senior patients. During the calls, Cedars-Sinai staff discuss a range of topics, from a patient’s mental health to available resources they might need.

“At its core, these personal interactions serve as an opportunity for Cedars-Sinai to provide care and treatment recommendations when needed, but also connect on a deeper, more meaningful level during a time when many people may feel alone,” said Mays, who is now expanding the pilot program beyond geriatrics to primary care providers. “Recipients have expressed great appreciation for the check-ins, and we are eager to expand the impactful service.”

To further combat social isolation in the elderly, Mays recommends the following:

· Encourage elderly adults to utilize virtual exercise classes like those offered by Flex Together and the National Institute on Aging.

· Encourage children and family members to write letters or emails to their grandparents.

· Call or video chat as often as possible to share simple, daily moments with elderly loved ones.

“This is a very vulnerable time filled with many uncertainties,” said Mays. “Check in on the people you know are sheltering in place or living alone. Your meaningful call or note could be the difference between feeling connected or alone.”

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Preventing Falls in Older Adults