ATLANTA—The holistic measure of social connection, rather than the component parts of loneliness and isolation, is the best way to assess how older adults are faring during the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming holiday season, according to new research released by the Georgia Health Policy Center (GHPC) at Georgia State University.
GHPC's key findings include:
- There is increasing support for tools that can holistically measure social connection, rather than component parts — loneliness and isolation — that fail to capture the complex nature of social connections.
- Integrating use of validated assessment tools into practice is an essential step in building evidence and best practices.
- Effective interventions to mitigate social disconnection must be person-centered to meet individual needs and preferences, while also theoretically sound.
Social disconnection is a long-standing challenge among older adults and known to negatively affect health outcomes. This year, with stay-at-home measures and limitations on social interactions, the COVID-19 pandemic magnified the risk of social disconnection, especially in older adults who may not be able to connect with others using technology. Public health measures that aim to protect vulnerable groups from the virus, may unintentionally worsen loneliness and isolation, which contribute to social well-being in older adults.
Given this increased attention to social disconnection, GHPC identified existing evidence-based tools for defining and measuring social disconnection among older adults and adults living with disabilities, as well as emerging approaches for interventions to help individuals in need.
"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," says GHPC assistant project director, Kristi Fuller, who leads long-term services and support work at the center. "You first have to identify people before you can help them."
GHPC's work was done to inform the state's aging and disability network on best practices for implementing a screening process. Health systems and others providing care to older adults can use these assessments (administered in-person, over the phone or by individuals) to identify individuals at-risk for social disconnection and to make referrals for interventions and support.
Assistant Project Director
Georgia Health Policy Center
Kristi Fuller is an assistant project director at the Georgia Health Policy Center. Her areas of expertise are in aging and disability policy, long-term services and supports, and health workforce.
Current projects include a partnership with the Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Aging Services to support their ability to measure consumer satisfaction and quantify the return on investment associated with streamlining access to long-term services and supports through the No Wrong Door system.