COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating senior isolation risk, study shows

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) — A new study from Penn State Harrisburg is shedding light on social isolation among seniors. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem.

Mental health has been a concern since the beginning of the pandemic, but especially among older Pennsylvanians. Those 65 and older account for one-fifth of the population.

The report from the Institute of State & Regional Affairs at Penn State Harrisburg and the Pennsylvania Population Network looked at food insecurity, lack of transportation, living alone and other issues such as mental illness and physical or cognitive disability.

“The highest risk counties we found, so including all those factors, were geographically different,” said Dr. Raeven Chandler, director of the Pennsylvania Population Network.

The five-year data has Philadelphia topping the list for all 67 counties on the Senior Isolation Index.

Dauphin County comes in at number seven with a score of 68 out of 100.

Isolation can also be detrimental to the overall mental health and certain cognitive abilities of individuals according to Chandler.

To prevent further loneliness and depression because of COVID-19, researchers say it’s important to get involved.

Check up on older adults who may be alone, whether it’s a phone call or reaching out to provide a meal.

“There’s no harm in reaching out and I’ve seen a number of facilities for long-term care in Pennsylvania that are being really innovative in ways to keep their residents engaged,” Chandler said.

The hope is this information will help to develop localized programs to combat these isolation and health risks.

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