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August 21, 2020

Trone introduces legislation to address social isolation, loneliness among seniors due to COVID-19

Credit: The Garrett County Republican

WASHINGTON — In an effort to address the expected increase in social isolation and loneliness among older adults due to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-Md., and Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., introduced bicameral legislation to help older adults remain safe, socially connected and healthy.

The Strengthening Social Connections Act of 2020 would provide emergency supplemental funding to programs that strengthen social connectedness and address the negative health effects of social isolation in the Older Americans Act.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 8 million older Americans already experienced social isolation, and nearly half of older adults felt isolated, alone or left out. Due to the heightened risk of developing severe health complications from COVID-19, older Americans have been advised to remain home, avoid social contact with family and friends and have groceries and vital medications delivered.

These social distancing measures will help protect the health of vulnerable older adults while easing the burden on the nation’s health systems. But unfortunately, experts believe that social distancing will also lead to increased social isolation and loneliness among older adults.

“Older Americans across the country are struggling with loneliness from the COVID-19 pandemic, isolating themselves from their communities to stay safe,” Trone said. “The Strengthening Social Connections Act will prioritize the mental and physical well-being of older Americans by providing resources to help them remain healthy and connected. I’d like to thank Sen. Tina Smith for working with me on this much-needed effort.”

Specifically, the bill would provide:

— $80 million for home and community-based services for older adults, with a focus on activities to prevent and mitigate the negative health effects of social isolation, including the purchase of technology.

— $18 million to enhance outreach to older adults and provide technical assistance to help area agencies on aging, aging services providers and nutrition providers reduce the negative health effects of social isolation and loneliness among older adults.

— $6 million to address the health effects of social isolation on minority aging populations.

Older adults who lack social connectedness are at risk of negative mental and physical health outcomes, with mortality rates comparable with the risks of smoking, obesity and air pollution. In fact, socially isolated seniors face a 29% increased risk of mortality. Beyond the negative mental and physical health effects of loneliness, social isolation has economic consequences. Federal spending is $134 more per person per month for every socially isolated older adult. This is comparable to Medicare spending on chronic conditions.