Thoughtful elderly man sitting alone at home with his walking cane
(Credit: Ijubaphoto / Getty Images)

A new bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives calls for including screening older adults for loneliness and the coordination of supportive services and healthcare to address the negative health effects of loneliness in older adults.

The Social Engagement and Network Initiatives for Older Relief (SENIOR) Act recently was announced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Tina Smith (D-MN). The proposal would add loneliness to the definition of disease prevention and health promotion services under the Older Americans Act. It also would require the Department of Health and Human Service to create a report on the effects of loneliness on older adults and recommend solutions within five years.

The legislation provides a comprehensive approach to reintegrating older adults into the general community and ensuring that they receive the care and companionship they deserve, according to Argentum Vice President of Public Policy Maggie Elehwany.

“As the American population continues to age, policymakers must look to models of care that focus on the social determinants of health, including high levels of social interaction,” Elehwany told McKnight’s Senior Living. “By offering older adults a home where they can strengthen social connections, assisted living communities play a role in reducing social isolation and supporting the overall health and well-being of their residents.”

Elehwany added that Argentum appreciated the bill calling for a study on multigenerational care models, referencing the Care Across Generations Act, which would provide resources to maintain childcare programs within assisted living communities. 

The bill carries the same acronym as the Argentum-backed Safeguarding Elderly Needs through Innovation & Occupational Resources Act, also known as the SENIOR Act, which focuses on workforce development and access to assisted living. 

“We are more connected now than ever before — yet loneliness endures,” Smith said of the new SENIOR Act proposal. “We need to invest in programs that will combat loneliness in our older Americans …”

Last year, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, announced a “National Strategy to Advance Social Connections” to address an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation.” 

In the wake of that advisory, the senior living industry held up assisted living as a way for older adults to strengthen social connections, bolstered by previous research.

For instance, 2022 report from the American Seniors Housing Association and ATI Advisory found that senior living communities reduced social isolation and improved quality of life during the pandemic through greater access to social, physical and intellectual wellness than their counterparts living in the greater community. 

And in 2021, a survey from Activated Insights reported that just 20% of senior living residents reported feeling “severely lonely.” The survey also revealed a potential decline in loneliness among older adults in assisted living and other congregate living settings from before the pandemic.

The most recently introduced SENIOR Act is supported by the Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness — with members including LeadingAge, Front Porch and LifeLoop, among others — as well as USAging, which represents the national network of Area Agencies on Aging, and the National Council on Aging, among other stakeholder groups.