The holidays can be a lonely time for older adults. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic may magnify that social disconnection.

New research from the Georgia Health Policy Center looked at social disconnection in the pandemic. Investigators found that measuring social connection, rather than loneliness and isolation, is the best way to assess how older adults are faring during the pandemic and the holiday season.

Although it generally is known that social disconnection is a widespread problem, there isn’t much agreement on how to define the concept. Effective measurement tools and interventions also are rare. 

Recognizing the potential long-term effects of the pandemic on older adults’ health and well-being, the researchers identified existing evidence-based tools to define and measure social disconnection among older adults, as well as new interventions. 

The research found that interventions with a sound theoretical basis, active participation from older adults, productive engagement activities, and person-centered approaches are more likely to be effective.

Their work will inform the state’s aging and disability network on best practices for implementing a screening process to identify individuals at-risk for social disconnection. That will help those caring for older adults provide intervention and supports.

“Consistently identifying and serving individuals at risk for social disconnection has always been important, but the need is especially critical now during a holiday season complicated by the pandemic,” said Kristi Fuller, assistant project director. “You first have to identify people before you can help them.”