Senior man looking out of window at home
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A national resource center should be created to provide leadership to address issues of social isolation and loneliness in older adults, according to a new report.

Creation of such a center is one of several recommendations contained in the report and stemming from a meeting of more than 70 stakeholders aimed at improving the care of older adults by addressing social isolation and loneliness. The report noted that coordinating efforts at the national level can amplify existing programs that bring together professionals and older adults to exchange knowledge and best practices.

The Center for Healthy Aging at the New York Academy of Medicine hosted the stakeholders representing aging services, academia and research, business and technology, healthcare, philanthropy and government agencies to “amplify the urgency and significance” of addressing social isolation and loneliness. 

Through presentations and breakout sessions on the long-term care, acute care, community and primary care settings, stakeholders emerged with a set of recommendations under the title “Shaping a Strategy for Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults.” 

The meeting followed last spring’s announcement of a “National Strategy to Advance Social Connections” by US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, who said the United States faced an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation.” In response, the senior living industry held up the assisted living model as a solution to strengthening social connections for older adults. 

Including direct care workers, older adults

The long-term care discussion by stakeholders in the New York Academy of Medicine meeting focused on the need for services from across the long-term care continuum and how to integrate those services to ensure comprehensive care. The group also emphasized the importance of direct care workers being educated on social isolation and loneliness. 

The long-term care group also identified state master plans for aging — also known as multi sector plans for aging — pilot programs, and modified curricula in medical schools and training programs as areas to foster knowledge in social isolation and loneliness early on in all healthcare providers’ education and training.

Other recommendations from the overall group called for identifying social isolation and loneliness as a social determinant of health to allow medical professionals to adopt a more targeted and holistic approach to care. Stakeholders also suggested leveraging partnerships between community-based and healthcare organizations, networks and resources to address social isolation and loneliness in older adults. 

“By fostering collaboration, partner organizations can tap into one another’s unique strengths to create comprehensive and targeted interventions,” the report read. “Community organizations bring local knowledge, trusted connections, and the ability to design culturally and regionally sensitive programs, while healthcare providers can contribute clinical expertise and resources.”

The recommendations also called for including older adults from “ethnoracially minoritized” groups in policy efforts, standardizing the processes for measuring and documenting those issues in older adults, and including older adult as active partners in all stages of program and policy evaluation.

Technology also holds “significant potential” for addressing social isolation and loneliness in older adults, according to the report. 

“While there exists a digital divide in access to and familiarity with technology among older adults, technology has proven to be a way for older adults, especially those who are physically isolated, to alleviate feelings of loneliness and remain in contact with their support systems,” the report read. “Technology can also facilitate communication through video calls and social media, foster virtual communities and events, and enable telehealth services.”

Organizations represented in the report included River Spring Living, the John A. Hartford Foundation, the federal Administration for Community Living, the Office of the Surgeon General, the CDC Foundation, The SCAN Foundation, the National Institute on Aging and the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.