Nowhere to go, no one to talk to. For more than a year now, many seniors have sat at home alone. Loneliness affects more than 2 in 5 seniors and COVID-19 has worsened social isolation. Older adults, a high-risk category for COVID-19, were encouraged to limit exposure to people. Now, vaccines are providing greater protection and allowing for more social interaction. However, the prolonged lack of engagement has taken a toll on the mental and physical health of many seniors.

Anthem encourages a whole-person care approach to address the well-being of senior consumers and help address the loneliness epidemic. Social care partners support seniors by connecting them to services and volunteer phone pals reach out weekly, providing a caring voice and listening ear. One senior said she can sit home all day and the phone never rings. She’s come to expect and enjoy the friendly call from her phone pal.

Participants in such a program were surveyed about their experience from May to June of 2020. They gave high marks for social connections, activities, health engagements and happiness. Those positive results could help reverse a disturbing trend seen during the pandemic. Anthem recently released its inaugural State of the Nation’s Mental Health Report, which found a downturn in adults 75 and older being treated for mental health diagnoses  — dropping 5% in 2020 compared to 2019.  The pandemic is the likely explanation for the overall decline. Many seniors have been shut in and shut off largely from society. Their normal patterns of care were disrupted, they’re less likely to use telehealth services, and some have been avoiding or delaying receiving medical care.

Addressing seniors’ social determinants of health and building personal connections leads to behavior changes that reduce isolation and loneliness. A survey of consumers who receive social support shows:

  • 78% of patients had more meaningful connections with people.
  • 79% of patients had an increase in activities that bring them joy or sense of purpose.
  • 74% of patients have changed something about how they take care of themselves.
  • 66% of patients were happy or very happy when taking all life aspects into account over a 7 day period during the survey.

Introducing a supportive person into a senior’s life can help them become more engaged in their overall health. Through trusting conversations with their phone pals, they’ve become more motivated – they’re exercising more, eating healthier, and adhering to their medications. We know loneliness increases the risk of morality by 45%. That’s why social interactions can be critical to seniors’ overall health and wellbeing. Anthem is committed to whole-person care to address loneliness and improve the lives of our consumers.