A Medicare Insurance Company Takes on Isolation

When I first heard that a Medicare insurance company was taking on isolation and delivering solutions to help seniors remain connected and active, my first impression was, "What a clever marketing strategy!" However, knowing the risks associated with the feelings of loneliness and disconnection far outweigh any attempt to sell services. Isolation is a grave concern and after speaking with the President of CareMore, Dr. Sachin H. Jain, the company understands the seriousness of the risks and how it affects older adults.

A Medicare Health Plan Tackles Isolation

Dr. Jain believes, "Loneliness is complex and its symptoms are often masked, so it is not only rarely diagnosed--it's rarely discussed. It is nonetheless incumbent upon our health care leaders-myself included delivering common-sense solutions to meet the holistic needs of patients."

The physician-founded company formed twenty-five years ago to fix the low quality of care given, to focus on chronic illness, to create neighborhood care centers, to provide services that older adults need like transportation to doctor visits and treatments and to offer other social activities and exercise classes at the care centers.

These are real issues that my Facebook group members suffer from at points in their lives, and I'm relieved to know that a health care insurance company cares enough to do something about.

Why Isolation is a Big Problem

  • Nearly 1 in 5 adults over age 50 is at risk of social isolation
  • The subjective feelings of loneliness can increase risk of death from 26% to 45%
  • The health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day

John T. Cacioppo of the University of Chicago understands how loneliness and social isolation affect people's health because he studies its risks and even wrote a book about it. I read an article about John's work in Dangers of Loneliness, where he sums it up well, "Most of us know what it is like to be lonely in a room full of people. You could be surrounded by hundreds of adoring fans, but if there is no one you can rely on, no one who knows you, you will feel isolated."

However, not all individuals 50 and over find it difficult to age alone or experience the negative effects of loneliness.

For some, they treasure privacy and being alone and even thrive on it, but for others, it's not a choice but a result of circumstances, and they feel very lonely. Death, divorce, or estrangement being the culprits and instigators to the grave predicament. These folks spend a lot of time alone without the support of a loved one or close friends. Members in my aging alone Facebook group can attest to the fear they face before a hospital visit or surgery without the help from a family member.

I am having serious back surgery and will be alone. To say that I'm terrified would be an understatement. This will be a several hour surgery so not a walk in the park.
I landed in ER last winter because I couldn't feel my leg. And it dawned on me that nobody knew or cared how and where I was.

But whichever circumstance a person finds themselves, okay with being alone or painfully aware of it, there are resources, companies, and nonprofits who take on the challenges older adults face when in that situation.Nearly 20 percent have high exposure of becoming socially disconnected and isolated, according to a study funded by the AARP Foundation. And according to 2010, US. Census Survey, they estimated 27 percent of the 65 plus population live alone, and as more boomers grow older, the number will rise.

When individuals set up and maintain connections, living alone does not present high risks, depending on whether they maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes eating nutritious foods and staying fit. However, the fewer connections one has, the higher the risks of being alone too much can cause loneliness.

What CareMore Health and AARP are doing about it

They deliver a service called the Togetherness Program which addresses loneliness in the clinical setting and aims to improve the physical, psychological and social well-being of aging seniors. A Chief Togetherness Officer heads up the new course of action which will initially focus on regular phone conversations with patients identified as being at-risk by analyzing electronic health record (EHR) data.

  • By viewing loneliness as any other chronic condition, it becomes possible to develop solutions and prescribe treatment strategies to effectively address the ailment.
  • Use phone calls to will help build connections, provide consistent and positive engagement, and support a patient's individual healthcare needs.
  • Insights generated from these conversations will help support the program's growth and expand offerings.
  • The success of the program measured by assessing improvements in the quality of life and clinical outcomes.

Another development that holds great hope for those aging alone is AARP's Connect2Affect.org. The website is chock full of resources and local services that help people aging in place and they hope to diminish the effects of isolation through:

  • Treating health issues that create barriers to connection through fall prevention programs for balance, strength, and the confidence to go out more often
  • Provide support through major life transitions by offering support groups to help someone feel connected while coping with significant change
  • Address societal barriers that exclude older adults through policy changes that support retraining and retention of older workforce
  • Ensure availability of services and support tailored to the needs of diverse communities with home-sharing models that make aging in place more affordable for all
  • Create opportunity for affordable and accessible transportation by accessing volunteer transportation services that make it easier for older adults to get around their community

Companies and services organizations like these give hope that aging alone is not a big deal as individuals lose independence.For the sake of all who have potential to isolate, hopefully, more health insurance companies will join the ranks of CareMore Health.

Elder Orphans want to challenge insurance companies, non-profits, startups, and developers to rethink the way they design communities and housing and look for ways to promote community and group support rather than advancing the values of individuality and retreat.

More on Elder Orphan Resources