Keeping Older Adults Connected While Staying Safe at Home

Wendy Weiss knows it’s best to not get too close to her 83-year-old father right now. As COVID-19 cases continue to climb, keeping a safe distance will help older adults like her dad and his wife stay healthy.

So, when Weiss arrived at her father’s home with some chicken soup, she went to the door, set the soup down and walked away. Instead of sharing a hug, they settled for a wave from a distance.

Weiss is a registered nurse and director of care management in the Medicare department at our health insurance subsidiary, the leading health insurance company in Florida. For her, the gesture was about more than the soup. It was a way to check in with the couple. A way to let them know they’re not alone in these uncertain times.

The necessity of social distancing can have unintended consequences for some people, especially older adults. It can cause them to become socially isolated, which can be dangerous. Dr. Gordon Kuttner said social isolation can lead to depression, anxiety and disorientation. The impacts can play out in many ways.

“With depression and anxiety, people may stop taking care of themselves and stop their medications,” said Kuttner, who is the senior medical director for our health insurance company's Medicare team.

Social isolation is among the topics that will be discussed in the Stay Connected Safe at Home webinar on April 24. Click here to register for the free event.

The partnership between the leading health insurance company in Florida and the Florida Council on Aging has spanned more than 40 years, said Margaret Lynn Duggar, executive director of the Florida Council on Aging. It includes educational programs and communicating essential information to older adults and those who work in the field.

Kuttner says there are many reasons older adults may be prone to social isolation. As they age, their family and social circles get smaller as people pass away. Many are forced to give up driving, so transportation becomes an issue. And for others, medical conditions may impact their mobility.

The growing concern about COVID-19 is indirectly causing social isolation concerns for older adults. For example, nursing homes are prohibiting nearly all visitors and residents are not allowed to eat together or participate in group activities. Instead, they must keep to themselves until it’s safe for them be around each other. This makes it especially important for friends and family to call them and use video chats regularly.

However, many places of worship, social groups and other organizations have adapted to what is happening in the world and gone virtual, giving people new ways to connect with others.

That’s also been the case for SilverSneakers, a program included in our Medicare Advantage plans that gives members access to 14,000 gyms across the country at no extra cost. Although those gyms are closed for now, SilverSneakers has hundreds of online workout videos that members can use at home. They are also hosting weekly Facebook Live events. Click here for more information.

Select Medicare Advantage plans include a partnership with Papa, an organization that helps members who have certain chronic medical conditions with transportation, household chores, and other support services. The Papa program is now being offered virtually, to provide companionship and assistance to those who need it.

Members appreciate still being able to use the service in these times. “The visit was good. She helped me to organize my pantry,” one member said of a recent virtual discussion. “I look forward to in-home visits again, past quarantine.”

The Medicare’s community health team used to be in the field each day, visiting with members in their homes and finding ways to meet their needs. Those include food insecurity, transportation, having their medications delivered and difficulties in paying for essentials. Even though the team can’t make in-home visits for now, the care and support they offer is continuing over the phone to address members’ needs.

And if you or someone you know is feeling stressed, specially trained counselors are available 24/7 to anyone in Florida at no cost. In partnership with New Directions Behavioral Health, you can talk with counselors by calling the toll-free helpline at 1-833-848-1762. (The counselors will not be able to help with questions about COVID-19 testing or treatment. Call the number on the back of your member ID card for those questions.)

The Florida Council on Aging has several suggestions for virtual experiences, including virtual museum tours, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Metropolitan Opera Live Stream and National Zoo webcams. And if you want to talk about something other than COVID-19, here are 250 suggested conversation starters.

There are plenty of things family, friends and neighbors can do to help, as well, especially if an older adult doesn’t have access to the internet. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a phone call to check-in. Or making sure they have books to read or listen to or have craft projects to work on.

Other times, it’s offering to pick up groceries and leaving them at their door. If you do that, take the time to share a wave from a distance until it’s safe to share a hug.

About the Author

Marilyn Young

Marilyn Young spent more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining GuideWell.