South Florida Hospital News
Tuesday October 15, 2019
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June 2019 - Volume 15 - Issue 12

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Using Technology to Combat Social Isolation Among Older Adults

Researchers have found that loneliness can be just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. A recent joint study from Harvard, Stanford and AARP revealed that Medicare spends approximately $134 more for each socially isolated senior than it would if the person was connected.

As a social determinant of heath, this puts loneliness in line with monthly Medicare costs for such chronic conditions as arthritis ($117) and high blood pressure ($163).
 
Socially isolated individuals were 29% more likely to use skilled nursing care facilities and their monthly SNF costs were $75 higher on average. When admitted to the hospital, his or her Medicare benefits were an average of an additional $81 more than if the person were connected.
 
The report notes that this might indicate such individuals are sicker when hospitalized or may lack the necessary support to leave the hospital earlier. The lack of a social safety net may also impact readmissions among the elderly.
 
According to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, in 2018 more than 110,000 Broward seniors over the age of 60 live alone. South Florida Institute on Aging’s own research shows that Broward seniors face challenges with loneliness and isolation. Sadly, 20% of the seniors we assessed eat most of their meals alone and 58% reported needing total assistance with key life tasks such as preparing meals, shopping and transportation.
 
Assistance with transportation, affordable housing and meals could all be improved with technology. We also know technology can help alleviate loneliness, yet access to technology is challenging for seniors. A 2018 Pew Survey found that 34% of Americans who did not use the internet were over 65 years of age.
 
In a 2018 study, however, the AARP Foundation found that technology use reduced feelings of loneliness. It also found that older adults use technology to make new friends online that help them build social networks: nearly one-quarter have made at least one friend or acquaintance online and about half met their online friends in person.
 
The study also found that adults who communicate with friends via email, text or online/video messaging are less likely to say they are lonely than those who rarely or never do.
 
Last year, the South Florida Institute on Aging began offering seniors free-of-charge technology training and, within weeks, had a waiting list of more than 400.
 
In addition to important digital literacy skills such as effective online searches to access health benefits, navigation of online portals for prescription ordering and the use of the internet to plan routes or order transportation to medical providers, data shows that the classes had a profound impact on their social engagement. Outcomes include:
- 90% increased their access to health resources
- 90% felt more confident in accessing Social Security, VA or Medicaid/care benefits
- 77% felt more connected to friends, family and the community
- 71% reported an increase in their confidence to remain independent
 
This summer, SoFIA is expanding its offices to create a Tech Lab & Communication Center to offer more courses with graduated skill levels and increase these services to meet the needs of historically underserved populations, such as seniors who are Spanish-speaking, veterans and members of the LGBT community.
 
On June 21, SoFIA will host the Aging in South Florida Symposium from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Huizenga College of Business at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. The event, sponsored by AARP, includes the exploration of technology as a helpful resource and solution to help us all thrive as we age.
 
Estimates are that nearly one in four people in South Florida will be at least 65 years old by 2040. Technology is one tool that can be used to increase services and social connections of isolated seniors that foster independence, improve well-being, vitality, functioning and quality of life.

Peter Kaldes is the President and CEO of the South Florida Institute on Aging, a “Think & Act Tank” focused on economic and social research, policy and programs to support South Florida’s aging community. He may be reached at pkaldes@thesofia.org or (954) 484-7117.

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