Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Casey knew that social isolation and loneliness were a deadly, pervasive problem that affects about 1 out of every 4 older adults in the United States. They are part of a team at AARP Foundation that raises awareness of the issues of social isolation and loneliness and works to address the social determinants of health older people experience. The COVID-19 crisis, they said, has only made these issues worse, especially for low-income individuals.
“Many older adults are left on the other side of the digital divide and don’t have the technology to do things like shop for groceries online or access telehealth,” said Casey. “But these are the folks who most need it.”
The first task their team had to go through, as Casey puts it, was “COVID-ifying” all their materials. “The last couple of months, everything has been turned on its head. We’ve had to do a lot of rethinking about strategy,” Casey said.
Among other projects, Casey is on the team that leads the Connect2Affect website, an online platform that provides materials and resources about social isolation and loneliness to raise awareness and help combat the issue.
“A lot of our solutions to isolation and loneliness were to go to your local senior center, go to your library,” Casey said. “How do we make all the information we’re putting out in the world right now safe and consistent with public health messages?”
The online platform was just one of many programs the team had to quickly overhaul in light of COVID-19 safety measures, such as moving training to online and determining who most needs support from the Foundation’s programs. One program that Casey and their colleague are working on sets up Amazon Alexa devices in affordable senior housing facilities to act as a concierge system for seniors, which they say has been “immensely helpful” to keeping seniors connected to their communities and the support they need.
The AARP Foundation had also funded the UnLoneliness Project from the Foundation for Art and Healing, which had previously been holding small in-person group creative expression and engagement activities “to engage older adults around healthy aging and building connectedness in the group,” according to Casey. The organization had been building a curriculum and model before the COVID-19 crisis. Casey and their team at AARP Foundation provided the organization support to build in digital activities and “other ways for folks to creatively engage and express themselves, and how they can address isolation while they’re stuck at home.”
“I personally have been working my network of other experts and folks in the space to learn what they’re doing and connect them to other folks who have ideas that would be helpful, and just sharing what I know,” Casey said. “It’s been gratifying and the one thing that has been keeping me sane and feeling like I’m doing something helpful.”
For a list of student and community resources regarding the COVID-19 crisis, click here.