From infancy to old age, one thing is universally true: Humans crave connection. That said, seniors experience loneliness as they often face loss, reduction of physical activities, health struggles and changing family dynamics. These compounding forces make it difficult to stay socially engaged. However, social wellness and connection is essential to achieve positive health outcomes.
So how can your older plan members maintain positive relationships? Read on to learn why connection is vital for seniors and how to foster engagement.
The importance of keeping older members socially engaged
Finding ways to combat loneliness and isolation offers several benefits for individuals and health plans alike. Keeping older members socially engaged:
Improves health and outcomes
When facing loneliness and social isolation, it’s incredibly challenging for members to to take an active role in their health care. The data doesn’t lie: Health risks for those 50 and older are increasingly linked to loneliness and social isolation.
Social isolation raises the risk of dementia by 50 percent and increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent. In fact, the risk of death is four times higher in heart failure patients experiencing loneliness. Other health risks associated with loneliness and isolation include high blood pressure, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression and even death.
Staying socially engaged in productive activities benefits older members across the board, helping them live longer lives, improve their moods, enhance cognitive function and foster a stronger sense of purpose.
Reduces health care spending
Nurturing connection reduces loneliness and enables members to become active participants in their own health care. So, fostering engagement can help plans close gaps in care while reducing costs.
Lonely senior members often visit emergency departments (EDs) because they can’t or don’t know how to prioritize their health. Increased ED visits are expensive for health plans, especially when they could be avoided with the right preventative care.
According to the Alliance of Community Health Plans, low-value care costs the health care system $340 billion annually. Examples of low-value care include overuse of imaging and diagnostic tests, excessive ED visits, unnecessary procedures and more. But by increasing engagement and treating loneliness, plans can encourage older members to use their plans and community resources appropriately.
Strategies to keep older members socially engaged
Looking for ways to keep older members socially engaged? These key strategies can drive social engagement among older member populations:
Connect members to volunteer opportunities
NIA research shows that caregiving or volunteering helps people form connections and feel less lonely. And that’s not all: Having a sense of purpose produces healthier immune cells, impacting physical health and mental well-being.
As Steve Cole, PhD, director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at UCLA, explains: “Working for a social cause or purpose with others who share your values and are trusted partners puts you in contact with others and helps develop a greater sense of community.”
Opportunities of all shapes and sizes are available for older members looking to volunteer in their communities. AmeriCorps’ senior program is open to those 55 and older and is a great place to start. Approximately 88 percent of volunteers who lacked companionship reported fewer feelings of isolation after joining AmeriCorps’ program.
Reduce or eliminate structural barriers
Identifying and eliminating structural barriers can make all the difference when engaging older members. Elena Portacolone, PhD, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, San Francisco, “focuses on the role that structural factors (i.e., institutions, social policies, ideologies) play in exacerbating the social isolation of vulnerable individuals.”
For example, older adults who desire social integration may have fears of being robbed, distrust for neighbors, limited availability of appropriate services — or affordable services that address specific needs — and few meaningful and positive relationships.
“Interventions to increase older adults’ social integration should address not only their behaviors, but their overall surroundings. We need to concentrate our attention on the influence of social policies, institutions and ideologies in the everyday experience of isolated older adults,” Portacolone explains.
AAA (Area Agency on Aging) located throughout the US provides a variety of resources for seniors in the community including communal meals, help with transportation and other services.
Find new social activities for seniors
Various local organizations such as libraries, community centers and Parks and Recreation offer free or low-cost classes and activities to keep seniors active and social. Participating in these activities gives seniors something to look forward to. For example, game nights, trips to the movies, book clubs and other similar, affordable activities can make all the difference when combating loneliness.
There are numerous ways seniors can find new social activities. AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect program provides access to community connection tools. USAging not only provides assistance programs, but also connects seniors to local activities surrounding physical fitness, creative arts and more. Senior Planet helps seniors learn new skills, save money, get in shape, and make new friends.
Start engaging your senior members with Pyx Health
Finding a sense of purpose and discovering new ways to get socially engaged is challenging for older plan members as life takes new and emotionally charged turns. That said, empowering seniors to actively improve their social connections is an essential factor in their overall health.
When you make these resources part of the members care plan, Pyx Health reinforces what they plan recommends, and you help members engage in their social connection and health. On top of this, our compassion-centered platform provides new ways to engage your members in their lives and health. From customized activities to in-the-moment assistance via the Pyxir chatbot, Pyx Health leverages technology and expertise to give members what they need.
Our professionally-trained ANDYs™ (short for Authentic, Nurturing, Dependable, Your Friend ) also provide skill-building companionship. Are your members facing technology barriers? Support is available through the app or over the phone.
Engage your members with Pyx Health. Explore our approach and get in touch to find out how our platform can transform your plan to effectively identify and help members who are lonely.